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Fastball has been key to Lester's rebound

5/15/2013
Jason Miller/Getty Images

After losing a career-high 14 games in 2012, Jon Lester is unbeaten in eight starts this season.Jon Lester goes for his sixth win of the season on Wednesday when the Boston Red Sox play the Tampa Bay Rays (7 ET on ESPN and WatchESPN).

In 2012, Lester didn’t earn his sixth win until Aug. 12 -- 24 starts into the season.

Lester’s return to form begins with his fastball. Last season when Lester threw his fastball, he allowed 198 total bases against 279 outs, a ratio of 1.4 outs to bases allowed. This season he’s allowed 28 total bases against 85 outs, a 3:1 ratio.

Opponents last season hit over .300 against Lester’s fastball. This season they are hitting .160 against the pitch; left-handed hitters have had almost no success against Lester’s fastball (see graphic).

Lester Fastball vs Left-Handed Batters

In 23 career starts against the Rays, Lester is 10-8 with a 4.14 ERA, but on the road he’s 4-1 with a 3.51 ERA and has allowed just one home run in his last five starts at Tropicana Field dating to the start of 2009.

Lester is off to a fast start, but the same cannot be said for Rays' pitcher David Price.

Last year’s Cy Young winner was 20-5 with a 2.56 ERA in 2012. In 2013, he has just one win with a 4.78 ERA, and the Rays are 2-6 in games started by Price.

While Lester is having success with his fastball, Price is not and the biggest difference has been a decrease in velocity. In 2012, Price's average fastball was 95.4 mph, fastest in the American League among pitchers who threw at least 1,500 pitches.

This season, it’s down to 93.3 mph, and opponents are hitting .318 against the pitch compared to .244 last season.

Another reason Price has struggled seems to be entirely out of his control.

He’s allowed a major-league leading 28 groundball hits; more than one-third of his grounders have resulted in hits. From 2009-12, the Rays converted roughly three-quarters of groundballs hit against Price into outs.

Wednesday’s game will be the fourth time that Lester and Price will be opposing starting pitchers, and history says the first team to score three runs will win. That's because a total of 12 runs have been scored when Lester and Price start in the same game.