The Big Pitcher, Part 5: Lester is More

AP photo/Bill Kostroun
This is the fifth of five in a series focusing on the Red Sox starting pitchers.

Jan-Christian Sorensen
Contributing Writer

Red Sox Nation might not have figured out yet which particular Jon Lester is going to take the hill on any given night, but one thing is evident: this ain’t your 2012 Model-L.

You know the one: bad brakes. Leaked like a sieve. Terrible mileage.

2012 Lester finished up The Year That Never Was with a 9-14 record and a 4.82 ERA. He served up a career-high 25 home runs. Batters hit him at a .273 clip. If you’re one of the Wins Above Replacement crowd, Lester went from a WAR of 4.4 in 2011 to a frigid 0.7 in 2012. 

Through his first 12 games last year, Lester was 3-4 with a 4.64 ERA.

During the same stretch of games one year later he’s 6-2 with a 3.53 ERA.

Of course, he’s receiving more run support from a revitalized Red Sox dugout this time around, as well: an average of 6.07 runs per game versus 4.02 a year ago. And the team is also benefiting from Lester’s renewal of late — Boston is 8-4 in games Lester has started. Last year the team was 13-20 when Lester toed the rubber.

True, his 12 starts to date in 2013 have run the gamut from sparkling (a near-perfect, one-hit game against Toronto May 10) to flat (7 hits, 5 ER, 3 BB versus Chicago May 20), but Lester’s luster has clearly returned.

Much of that turnaround likely has to do with getting his former pitching coach John Farrell back in the dugout as manager. During the heady Farrell-Francona days of yore from 2007-2010, Lester was 54-23 with a 3.40 ERA and a WHIP of 1.26.

This year, Farrell and new pitching coach Juan Nieves have overhauled and rewired Lester’s confidence in both himself and his pitches while also helping him realize the rewards of keeping a brisk pace on the hill.

But that starting pitching renaissance doesn’t begin and end just with Lester; the Red Sox starters as a group have improved from a 5.19 ERA last year to 3.68 to this point in the season — fourth best in the American League.

While the 7-0 Clay Buchholz might be nipping at his heels as No. 1 man out of the chute for the Red Sox, Lester is still Chairman of the Board, especially since the exile of Josh Beckett. He's the stalwart. The foreman. The floor manager.

This year Lester became the first lefthanded starter to pitch three consecutive opening-day games for the Sox since Mel Parnell did it 60 years ago. The last hurler to do it previous to Parnell? Guy by the name of “Ruth”. And when Lester notched the victory in the 2013 season opener at Yankee Stadium April 1, he also became the first Red Sox southpaw to win an opener since Gary Peters did it in 1970 (coincidentally, Peters also accomplished that feat in Gotham).

Lester then went on to win six of his first nine games, but he’s since cooled off, recording a pair of losses and a no-decision during a three-game stretch in which he’s given up 13 earned runs on 23 hits and issued eight walks in just under 20 innings.

“It’s not going to be all roses the whole season,” Lester said, more than a week ago.

The kid’s also a gifted psychic. In his most recent start Friday against the Yankees, Lester was all thorns, allowing four runs on six hits while walking four. He was outmatched on almost every level by a suddenly resurgent C.C. Sabathia, who went 7+ innings, scattering one run on six hits and striking out 10.

After the game, Lester painted the outing as a one-off.

“Just bad pitches -- behind in the count, not commanding the fastball, the list goes on,” he said. “Delivery felt fine, arm felt fine. You have those nights were you’re just not, for whatever reason, clicking right at the end.”

Sox fans will easily forgive Lester these early lapses if he can instead click when it counts the most: right at summer’s end.

To date, the Red Sox starting pitching corps is ranked second in the AL in wins (25), strikeouts (331) and average against (.238) and third in ERA (3.68), innings pitched (342) and hits allowed (305). On the downside, Sox starters are leading the league in walks, issuing 142 free passes.

Twitter: jan_doh