Ace in the hole: Lester slipping, questions raised

Jon Lester has struggled recently, including giving up six runs
in a 9-7 loss to the Blue Jays in his most recent start.
(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette)
 Ben Whitehead
Contributing Writer

Jon Lester’s best start of his young 2013 campaign came in Toronto’s Rogers Centre. It is also the place of his worst.

Just over three weeks ago, Lester threw seven innings with six strikeouts and gave up no runs, picking up an easy 13-0 win. Last night, though, he went six innings and gave up six runs (five earned). Two of those runs come on a home run by Edward Encarnacion that still hasn’t landed.

Lester described his most recent outing as a “grind” from the first pitch and took the blame for a 9-7 loss to the Blue Jays.

“Really from pitch one, I never was able to get into a rhythm with anything,” Lester said after the game. “As far as fastball command, cutter, curveball or changeup, I was never really able to repeat down in the zone enough. It was a grind from pitch one.”

In his past three starts, Lester has allowed 10 earned runs, albeit he is 2-0 in those starts with a no-decision last night. His ERA has more than doubled from 1.42 to 3.11. His command has slipped a bit from the beginning of the season and it appears he has been unable to escape the dreaded big inning.

Is this cause for Red Sox Nation to fret? Let’s be honest here. Lester is never far away from returning to and staying at Cy Young form. Every pitcher has an outing like he had last night. And there will likely be several more along the way. Lest we forget that he was in line for the win last night, watching the game wilt away in the hands of the Sox bullpen.

Lester is going to be fine. He’s going to be greater than fine. He will be the ace of this staff, as he has been most of this season. A few shaky starts in April shouldn't raise a red flag. It's early, he has time to figure things out and he's got John Farrell keeping a keen eye on him. The other good news is he has several other starters behind him that are also high-quality pitchers. That kind of competition is what drives a guy like Lester.

Settle down, Red Sox Nation. Lester’s next start is slated for Sunday in Texas. We can all expect to see Lester putting this one behind him and getting back on track toward a Cy Young season.

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