- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- Jon Lester will tell you it's a process.
The left-hander will say that losses suck and you can only move on. It's been a common theme this season for the once-dominant ace, but it appears that process is finally starting to click for Lester, even though he suffered his ninth loss of the season Thursday.
Lester pitched well against the Twins. The southpaw was solid and allowed only three runs on seven hits with zero walks and seven strikeouts. He tossed 105 pitches (69 for strikes), but the Red Sox offered no run support as Minnesota starter Samuel Deduno held Boston scoreless and allowed only two hits in six innings of work.
"It was another of those hard-luck outings," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said. "Jon, gosh, he pitched awfully well."
He really did.
Unfortunately for the Red Sox, Lester has not registered a win since June 27. He has gone six consecutive starts without a win, extending the longest single-season stretch of his career.
Forget that Lester is 0-1 in his past two starts. The important thing is he's pitched well, and he realizes that.
While the team was in Texas a week ago, Lester threw a longer bullpen session than he normally does between starts in order to find a more comfortable feel in his delivery and release points. He felt like it was a step in the right direction and it showed in his start against the Yankees on Sunday in New York.
Even though he had to settle for a no-decision, Lester worked six solid innings, allowing four runs on four hits with two walks and six strikeouts. Boston beat the Yankees that night 8-6 to win the three-game series.
"Combined with my last start, there are a lot of positives," Lester said. "Obviously, seven runs in two starts isn't ideal, but with the way I've been throwing the ball this year, I'm going to take these two as positives."
"I've got to keep sticking to the process. It's been going in the right direction the past two [outings] for me, so I'm happy with that. Obviously, the results aren't there, but I'm happy with the way the ball came out of my hand. A loss is a loss, it still sucks, but I took a lot of positives from tonight. I just need to keep building on that."
Lester clearly was dialed in Thursday night too. He retired the first six batters he faced, including three strikeouts.
In the third inning, he allowed a leadoff single to Brian Dozier, but Lester retired the next two batters before Denard Span and Ben Revere provided back-to-back RBI singles to give Minnesota a 2-0 lead.
Unlike many times this season, Lester did not get rattled. Instead, he settled in and kept the Twins at bay until the sixth. Again, the Red Sox registered two quick outs before Justin Morneau dropped a double down the left-field line.
Then switch-hitter Ryan Doumit, batting from the right side, dropped the ball into right field for a double, as Morneau scored to give the Twins a 3-0 lead.
"How many balls does Ryan Doumit hit down the line? That was the frustrating part," Lester said. "The ball was up a little bit. But like I said, you look at his spray chart, how many balls does he hit down that line? It was perfectly placed and it is what it is and you've got to move one."
All three runs Lester allowed came with two outs, and he couldn't explain why.
"If I had an answer, it wouldn't happen," he said. "If I could explain it, I would eliminate it. I make a good pitch and it's up just a hair and he hits a ball perfectly placed down the line. It was the same thing with Span; I execute my pitch and he hits the ball down the line. I'd rather take a ball in the gap than that because at least I know I made a mistake."
After the sixth inning, Lester retired the next seven batters he faced and was finished after eight full innings of work.
"I felt great. Threw the [expletive] out of the ball. Their guy threw better than me," Lester said. "You run into those sometimes, and I've been on the other end of those. You've got to tip your hat to him. He did a good job."
Red Sox closer Alfredo Aceves worked the top of the ninth and allowed a two-run homer to Dozier to cap Minnesota's scoring.
Lester's struggles aren't all his fault. He entered his 22nd start of the season on Thursday with an average of only five runs of support per nine innings, and when the opposing pitcher completely shuts down the Boston offense, as Deduno did, Lester can't do much about it.
"Jon was awesome," said Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who went 2-for-3 with a walk. "He deserved to win. He went out there and gave us everything we could ask for, what your ace should do. It was unfortunate we couldn't score for him."
Despite the solid outing, Lester fell to 2-7 at Fenway Park this season.
"He's pitching very well," Valentine said. "He can get on a roll as well as anybody in this league right now -- a roll of wins. He's on a roll of pitching well. We'll get him on a roll of wins."
Lester has dealt with all sorts of adversity this season. He's starting to piece it all together, and all he needs to do is keep it rolling. The Red Sox desperately need him to do just that.
"I've got to stick to it and I've been saying it all year," Lester said. "It's been a tough year for me personally, but nobody in this clubhouse is going to feel sorry for me and nobody out there is going to feel sorry for me, so I've got to keep showing up every day and doing my work. That's all I can control. I threw the hell out of the ball tonight. I don't feel like I've thrown the ball that well all year."
The Red Sox need that process to continue.
26mAdam Lewis, Special to ESPN.com