NESN: Lester undone by shaky second inning in loss to Yankees
Jon Lester had very little margin for error on Friday, and an early speed bump completely flattened the Red Sox' tires.
Lester surrendered two runs in the second inning, and that was more than enough for the Yankees, who received an ace-like performance from CC Sabathia en route a 4-1 win in the series opener.
Lester was charged with four runs on six hits and four walks over 6 1/3 innings before all was said and done. The most discouraging part of Lester's outing was undoubtedly his lack of command. While Sabathia kept Red Sox hitters off balance with a good-looking changeup, a nasty slider and an improved fastball, Lester failed to locate his pitches. He nibbled around the strike zone, but he struggled to put hitters away, and the lengthy at-bats led to free passes and an elevated pitch count early on.
"You include those five baserunners to the hits allowed and he's pitching out of the stretch quite a bit," manager John Farrell said. "I thought he threw a number of good pitches that didn't go his way, but still the base on balls are what they were. … They bunched some hits and some walks together in that second inning, really extended him, and that kind of shortened his night overall."
Lester, who started the season with a perfect 6-0 record, suddenly finds himself in the midst of a little skid. He gave up four runs on a season-high 10 hits in his last outing against the Indians on Saturday, and he surrendered a season-high five earned runs while taking the loss against the White Sox on May 20.
"I thought [in] his last outing, he got back to his consistent self. Tonight I don't know that he had quite the same sharpness to his secondary stuff and he had to fight back in the count a few times," Farrell said. "Tonight I thought he delivered the ball downhill a little better than he did his last start, but still, the numbers are what they are."
Lester is now 0-2 with a 6.05 ERA (13 earned runs in 19 1/3 innings) in his last three starts, which once again sparks the debate about whether the lefty is a true ace. There are times - like his one-hit shutout against the Blue Jays on May 10 - when it seems foolish to ask such a question because of how dominant Lester appears. But then there are other times - like Friday's loss - when Lester's status as a true No. 1 gets called into question because of his inability to overcome moments of frustration.
In Lester's defense, he didn't get the benefit of the doubt from home plate umpire Lance Barksdale in a few instances on Friday, and he managed to minimize damage on a few separate occasions. Lester gave up three hits and a walk in that crippling second inning, but he avoided total disaster by getting Chris Stewart to ground into an inning-ending double play, and he actually went on to retire seven straight before plunking David Adams with an 0-2 curveball to kick off the fifth inning.
All in all, it wasn't a terrible outing for Lester. But when you're going up against the opponent's best, a couple of mistakes here and there can be the difference, as was the case on Friday. While Lester labored, Sabathia remained in control throughout, shutting the Red Sox down for 7 1/3 innings before handing the reigns over to the steady back end of the Yankees' bullpen.
Lester's rocky stretch isn't anything for the Red Sox to be too concerned about right now. It's definitely something Lester has to overcome, though, or else the deflating speed bumps could start to damage the entire vehicle.
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