Monday, June 1

The Return of Jon Lester

Around this time last year Jon Lester was 2-2, he finished 2008 on a 14-4 tear with an era of 2.97.

This year Lester has been unable to replicate last years overall success. Before yesterday's start Lester's' era was above 6 and he'd given up 10 home runs. Lester hasn't been terrible by any means, he does seem to be plagued by 1 bad inning each start, highlighted by a fastball Justin Morneau destroyed last week.

Despite giving up a home run to Alex Rios yesterday, Lester scattered 3 hits and 3 walks while striking out 12 in 6 innings of work. One criticism of yesterday's start is that Lester was only able to go 6 innings as his pitch count climbed to 115 pitches.

The pitch count not withstanding, Lester looked great yesterday. His fastball was consistently 95-96 and he was hitting every spot, seemingly putting the ball where ever he wanted. Marco Scutaro struck out looking on a curve ball on the outside corner his first time up, his second time up he waived at it going down on strikes again knowing it was going to be a strike regardless of his pathetic swing.

Has Lester turned the corner? Sox fans sure better hope so. I'm not going to rip the guy if he finishes 11-12 on the year with an era around 5 (I'll save that for Dice K), but if the Sox want to get into the playoffs and do some damage, Lester has to pitch like he did yesterday against Toronto.

That goes for the entire starting rotation. We are at about the 1/3 mark of the season and the Sox starting 5 hasn't lived up to expectations. Certainly the early struggles of everyone except for Tim Wakefield has made it difficult to climb back, however there are signs of improvement.

Beckett has shaken off some rough starts and strung together 3 good outings improving his record to 5-2 and his era to 4.60. That's not great but it serves as a microcosm for the rest of the starting rotation. As Tony Mazz wrote today the starters era is 3.57 in the last 15 games; if the offense could time things up with the pitching the Sox might have won a few more of those games.

Somehow Brad Penny is 5-1 with an era of 5.63, and even Dice K didn't look as bad in his first start coming off the DL, although it was still tough to watch those 5 innings.

What's ahead for the Sox pitching, Clay Buchholz and John Smotlz. You have to believe that Theo Epstein is devising a plan to get Buchholz up with the big club sometime this summer. Smoltz is scheduled to come off the DL and start come the middle of June, the 16th I believe.

Brad Penny can't be traded until after June 15th, the day before Smotlz is eligible to return. Might Theo try and deal him to another contender in the National League looking for some depth in their starting rotation? It wouldn't surprise. I'm not expecting the world back for Penny either, making room for Buchholz or Smoltz might be good enough.

I'll certainly be watching Lester's next start very closely, Saturday night against the Rangers, to see if he can string together back to back good outings. Lester has been saying that he feels good in each start and that he's close to where he wants to be, maybe he got their Sunday.

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