Thursday, July 4, 2013
Changeup keys Lester's turnaround
By Kyle Brasseur
BOSTON -- Wednesday night's game against the San Diego Padres looked like it would be a lot of the same from struggling Red Sox starter Jon Lester.
After retiring the first two Padres hitters he faced without incident, Lester ran into trouble.
Jon Lester produced his first quality start in nearly a month Wednesday.
An infield single to Carlos Quentin set the stage for what would soon turn into an inning of labor. Chase Headley followed Quentin's single with a 10-pitch at-bat, lining a cutter to deep left for another single. The Padres' next hitter, Kyle Blanks, proved not to be as patient, lining Lester's first pitch of the at-bat for a single of his own to score Quentin. It seemed that not being able to get out of an inning cleanly would spell another rough night for the Red Sox left-hander.
"It's been a lot of two-out situations where he hasn't finished an inning off," Farrell explained before Lester's previous start, against the Toronto Blue Jays on June 27. "There has been some inconsistencies in making that put-away pitch."
Those inconsistencies led to a tough June that saw Lester go 2-2 with a 7.62 ERA. He failed to reach the sixth inning in three of his five June outings.
However, the start of a new month saw a new trend, as the Padres would score no more after the first inning. Lester was able to settle down, going seven strong innings while not factoring in the decision of what ended up being a 2-1 walk-off win for the Red Sox.
"I think after the 32-pitch first, he settled in," Farrell said. "Just over 60 pitches for the final six innings."
Indeed, Lester threw only 70 more pitches following his tough first inning on the way to his first quality start since June 6 against the Texas Rangers. But it was the way in which he did it that might have offered the biggest key to the 29-year-old's success.
"We were able to slow them down a lot with some changeups tonight," Lester said. "There was no rhyme or reason. If I had good command of my curveball it would have been the curveball."
Lester threw a remarkable 34 changeups, accounting for one-third of his 102 pitches on the night. According to FanGraphs, the changeup had been Lester's least-used pitch this season, coming just 12 percent of the time.
"Some late action in the zone, some depth to it, a good arm speed, deception," Farrell said. "It's become a much more consistent weapon for him."
The changeup was Lester's go-to against the Padres, as he retired nine of the 27 batters he faced with the pitch. Of the twelve swings and misses he got on the night, nine came on changeups.
That success, along with the fact that it was Lester's first career start against the Padres, might have been what factored into his surprising usage of the pitch.
"Anytime that you're facing a team that you don't really know, it's kind of a feeling-out period," Lester said. "At least for me."
Whatever the decision was, change -- in any form -- is a good sign for the left-hander.