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Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Jon Lester still out of sync

By Joe McDonald
ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- There's nothing encouraging about the statistics for Boston Red Sox starter Jon Lester.

The left-hander suffered his seventh loss of the season Tuesday night when the Chicago White Sox defeated the Red Sox 7-5 at Fenway Park. Lester has a 5-7 record with a 4.80 ERA. He has been a perennial winner, posting no fewer than 15 wins a season since he became a full-time member of Boston's rotation in 2008.

This season is completely different.

It has gotten to a point that Lester is even shaking his head in disbelief.
Jon Lester
Having eight days between starts did little to help Jon Lester, who fell to 5-7 on the season.

"It's kind of stating the obvious," Lester said. "It's been a frustrating year and it was a frustrating night. It keeps adding on and I'm getting tired of it. I try to make adjustments and try to do the things I need to do and I'm just not getting results."

The way Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine set up his post-All-Star-break rotation, Lester had a total of eight days between starts. The long layoff was designed to give him a chance to rest and regroup.

"That's what he requested and what we figured was the best for him," Valentine said. "He never missed a start in the first [half] and gave him a little extra rest to make this start."

Instead, Lester showed signs of rust.

He was inconsistent, unsuccessful and only able to work four innings, allowing six runs on seven hits with three walks and four strikeouts. He tossed 91 pitches (57 strikes). It seemed as though the extra rest did nothing for him.

"It's still a loss," he said. "It doesn't matter if you rest or not, a loss is a loss. It sucks.

"I felt fine. It felt like any other start. Obviously it's nice to have a break, but I've got to do a better job of executing pitches and I'm not doing that right now."

The left-hander never got into a rhythm and the White Sox jumped all over him in the top of the first inning, scoring a pair of runs for a 2-0 lead. Lester has allowed at least one run in the first inning of each of his last four starts, which is the longest stretch of his career.

Boston responded and tied the game at 2-2 by manufacturing some runs. Jacoby Ellsbury led off with a single, stole second and scored on Carl Crawford's RBI single. Crawford then stole second, reached third on a ground out by Daniel Nava and scored on an Adrian Gonzalez RBI single.

Even though his teammates erased the deficit and knotted the game, Lester could not keep the White Sox at bay in the top of the second as Chicago pushed across one run and regained the lead.

"It was a frustrating night for Jon," Valentine said. "After he gave up the two in the first, and then we came back, I really thought he would be able to settle down and get us a victory, but his control wasn't there. I don't know if it was the long layoff or what, the walks are really uncommon for him."

In his previous start, against the New York Yankees on July 8, Lester allowed five runs (four earned) on nine hits in only 4 1/3 innings. After that game he said the long layoff would do him good and hopefully he would be able to turn things around in the second half.

Well, that didn't happen Tuesday night.

"I don't think there's anything else I can work on," he said. "I've done everything. Come game time, I've just got to throw the ball better -- plain and simple.

"It's frustrating showing up every day, busting my ass and not pitching well. I'm letting my team down. The guys did a good job in that first inning picking me up and I didn't pick them right back up. I've got to get them back in the dugout and I didn't do it. I haven't been doing it all year, so it's got to change."

To add insult to injury, former teammate Kevin Youkilis crushed a three-run homer off Lester in the fourth to give Chicago a 6-2 lead.

"It was a 3-2 fastball. Youk's a good hitter and we've all seen him for a long time do what he did," Lester said. "It was bad location, bad spot, bad time and all the above."

Lester said he feels fine physically and mechanically. The issue, at least in his mind, is his lack of command within the strike zone.

"He's working as hard as anyone, thinking about things as much as anyone, maybe thinking too much, who knows," Valentine said. "He's throwing with good velocity. His curveball is pretty good. His changeup is OK. It's just the one little thing that doesn't seem to go right."

Clearly frustrated, Lester exited the Red Sox clubhouse a few minutes before 11 p.m. Tuesday. His struggles are to a point where he wants to totally forget about every start he has made this season and completely focus on his next start as some sort of new beginning.

"That's the way I've been my whole career," Lester said. "After I leave this clubhouse tonight, it'll be all about my next start. I'm not worried about tonight, I've just got to move on and focus on when I pitched next and try to get the ball down and get as many outs and save this bullpen a little bit. It's all I can control."

That new beginning was supposed to be Tuesday night, especially with eight days between starts and a well-rested left arm. It wasn't.

Lester has posted consecutive victories only once this season. He also has allowed six or more runs on three occasions, all outings of four innings or fewer, which is something he's never done in his career.

Lester has experienced a lot of things this season for the first time in his career. These are uncharted waters for him and he's clearly frustrated. He's also the kind of pitcher who has thrived on adversity his entire career and now we'll see what he's made of.

"I've just got to keep throwing the ball," he said. "It'll turn."