Monday, June 01, 2009

Lester Locks In on Strike Zone

Jon Lester has a new career milestone: Twelve strikeouts in a game.

After two games of losses in Toronto with little offensive production, the Red Sox beat up on the Blue Jay's pitching in the rubber match on Sunday for a strong 8-2 win--keeping the Sox half a game out of first with a Yankees loss in Cleveland-- a loss by the way that should have been an official win for Carl Pavano (who is easily the comeback player of the year and another source of fun Yankee-ribbing here in NY).

Francona juggled the lineup so that the offense was stacked with righties: Pedroia hit lead-off, the 3-4-5 spots were set by Youk-Bay-Lowell, and Navajo-Jewish-Lawyer Ellsbury and his lefty bat dropped down to the eigth spot-- a strange place to seem him bat fo sho.

In the 4th inning, Pedroia slapped a 3 run homer on a line drive that barely cleared the left-field fence at the Rogers Centre. Additionally, the Sox had nice batting contributions from Lowell, Bay, and even a double by the still struggling David Ortiz.

But the dominant story for this game was Jon Lester and his pounding of the strike zone. After a tough loss last week in Minnesota where Lester pitched well , but gave up a 3 run blast to Justin Morneau--the difference on Sunday was that he was practically unhittable. Lester used the entire zone, going high with his 94 mph heater, cutting his pitches in to righties, throwing his curve up and down and on the corners, and, apparently, used a change up to help keep batters off.

From a article on Lester and his pitches:
Jason Varitek said the pitcher threw about 20 change ups in the game,
perhaps 10 times as many as he called in Lester's last start against the Jays,
saying, "That's a totally different guy than you've seen before. He just
showed that he had a good one today, had good depth and good arm speed with
Lester gave up only 3 hits, threw 72 strikes in 115 pitches, and gave up one run in the first inning on a sac fly to Vernon Wells. The only real issue here was that Lester didn't get beyond 6 innings, something you'd expect to find in a game with 12 Ks. But when you start adding up the foul balls and deep counts that the Blue Jays can take a pitcher, it's not surprising to see that line on the box score.

The key was that his fastball was zippy and hard to catch up for hitters and he painted his curve ball on the corners, especially to right-handed hitters. When you mix in the use of the change up, what you get is a very good outing. Lester lowered his ERA under 6.00 to 5.65, another very good sign that the young lefty is starting to hit his stride.

Given the lack of consistent offensive production from the Sox on the road, getting and keeping Lester going will be another key element to keeping pace in the AL East. As Joy of Sox points out: "Boston has scored only 4.2 runs per road game, more than two runs fewer than their 6.3 average at home."

Let's hope that improves.

This week: 3 games in Detroit starting Tuesday night, then back to Fenway for a 3 game series against the AL West-leading Texas Rangers (followed by next week's visit by that team from the Bronx to Beantown).