24 May 2006

Jon Lester Update, No. 11

Jon Lester made his 9th trip to the mound last night in Pawtucket against the Louisville Bats. Jon got his 3rd win of the season in a tight game, which was a nice sign. First, let's look at his season to date first.



As I mentioned, Jon got his 3rd win of the season last night in what was a very successful start for him results-wise.

His line: 5.0 IP, 3 H, ER, 4 BB, 3 K (84 pitches; 47 strikes)

GB: 7
FB: 4
SO: 3

The good news- he kept the ball on the ground for the most part, limited what the damage in the jams he got into, and allowed only the one run, putting his team in a great shape for a victory.

The bad news- poor command, fewer strikeouts, more inefficiency with his pitches, and apparently was very wild in the strike zone. Jon has not made it out of the 5th inning this year, despite routinely getting around the 90 pitch mark his last few starts.

smastroyin, a moderator at SoSH, was at the Bucket last night, and gave a great rundown of Lester's performance. Here it is:

Note that my seat tonight was at an angle to the plate which means I had to go by the speed to distinguish between the slider and the cutter. The slider typically clocks in in the mid-80s and the cutter is in the high-80's low-90's. They look almost the same from more than 100 feet and especially at the angle I was at.

First inning. He started off using the cutter and quickly got a weak ground ball from Bergolla. He then started Olmeda with a curveball that didn't break and sailed out of the zone and followed up with a couple of fastballs, one close, one not close at all. On the not close at all one, he actually fell off the mound at the end of his delivery. He got a strike on the cutter but then walked Olmeda on a pitch that was very high and tight. Denorfio took a ball then popped a high slider to shallow RF for Machado. Lester quickly got ahead of Gutierrez, threw a beautiful 0-2 curve that was called a ball, and then Gut/ grounded weakly to Enrique Wilson at 3B. In total 13 pitches, 7 for strikes.

Second inning. Lester threw a fasball by Andy Abad with the first pitch of the inning then switched to all offspeed stuff out of the strikezone to run the count 3-1. Another FB which may have been out of the zone but that Abad fouled off, and then Abad hit a line drive right off of Lester. Hard to tell where it hit him, but I think it may have been the glove hand. He then walked another old friend, Earl Snyder, getting only a consolation call on a 3-0 cutter. He was visibly frustrated during this at bat and threw the rosin bag to the ground after the walk and took a little trip around the back of the mound. He then sacked up and got Bannon and Kata on swinging strikeouts, one of the slider, Kata on a curveball way out of the zone. 20 pitches, 10 for strikes.

Third inning. He started Sardinha looking foolish on a cutter and a 95 mph FB then on 0-2 threw a flat curveball right over the heart of the plate. A major league hitter would have put it over the Green Monster - from Pawtucket. Sardinha roped a double that would have likely been caught if the Sox outfield weren't playing so much to the opposite field. Lester then got a gift out on a sac bunt (in the 3rd inning with the leadoff guy? who is managing Louisville?). He fielded it cleanly and could probably give Lenny DiNArdo a quick lesson on properly throwing the ball to first base. Next up Ray Olmeda who was obviously frustrated by walking in the first and swung at everything near the plate. Honestly he could have walked on four pitches again. Instead the count got to 3-2 and he managed to foul off a few more pitches before whiffing on either a fast curveball or a heavy moving slider. After the K, Lester walked Denorfio on four pitches maybe one of which you might say "aw come on ump." Gutierrez then hit a soft one hopper to short for the final out. 20 pitches, 11 for strikes.

Fourth inning. The sun had gone down by this point and it was cold in the park. About 50 degrees with a decent wind. Abad hit a towering fly ball that ended up about 10 feet behind the infield but seemed to take 5 minutes to get there. Earl Snyder looped a 1-0 pitch to the second baseman, and after falling behind Bannon 3-0, Lester came back to retire him on a well hit fly to left field. 12 pitches, 6 for strikes.

Fifth inning. Kata, who had looked foolish before, walked on 5 pitches and the strike was another gift swing at a ball well out of the zone. Lester's frustration at this point was evident enough that I took note of it. Huckaby visited the mound. Sardinha then got his second hit when he looped a single to RF on a 1-1 cutter that stayed in the middle of the plate. Again a sac bunt saved Lester some pitches (seriously, this is the leadoff hitter in the fifth inning. I would fire a manger for this) Another long battle with Olmeda swinging at just about everything resulted in a short pop to left field that couldn't score the runner from third. However, Denorfio took a 1-0 fastball and drilled it on the ground through the left side of the infield for a single, however Durrington made a nice throw to gun down the runner from second ending the inning, and Lester's night. 19 pitches, 10 for strikes.

On the night he threw 5 innings, faced 21 batters, walked 4 and struck out 3, all swinging. He gave up 3 hits and the lone run. But he also needed 84 pitches to get through 5 innings and only threw 44 of those for strikes. Note that of 15 outs recorded, three were gifts - two sac bunts and a runner thrown out at the plate.

I am thinking from the pattern of pitches that he is still on a program because he really didn't use the fastball enough considering it was his best pitch and the only one he had consistent command of. The Red Sox must (understanably) want him throwing the cutter and slider more to get better command of them and they seem to be keeping him from throwing the curve too much...

A lot of what I recorded as a slider could have been the change with movement. I basically try to identify the cutter as breaking in on RHB and the slider the opposite, but I'm no scout. He wasn't throwing a straight change earlier in the year, but he may be now. I think the change is one of the harder "cold weather" pitches because of the difficulty of maintaining a change up grip while keeping fastball mechanics.

Here's another firsthand account, for some balance.

I think this tells us a couple things- first, that Lester isn't quite as far along as people hoping for a stop in Boston late in the year are thinking. But, it also seems that Lester may be on a regimen that's leading to some struggles by getting him to focus on his weaknesses. This was something mentioned in reference to Hanley Ramirez last year who, while struggling nearly the entire season in AA, was supposedly being instructed to work solely on hitting the ball up the middle and shortening his stride. Whether that's true or not a highly debatable, but it's something definitely worth considering. Lester is still in a development stage, the enthusiasm for his potential notwithstanding.

As I've mentioned before, Jon has a prospect journal at Baseball America. He hasn't updated it since my last Lester entry here, from which I quoted, but just including the link, because it's a pretty interesting set of reads.

Here is the PawSox game story, from Projo.com- seems Lester would concur with the scouting report from last night.

PAWTUCKET -- Jon Lester didn't think so, but his manager thought the young left-hander gave the Pawtucket Red Sox five strong innings last night against the Louisville Bats at McCoy Stadium.

Lester, rated as the top pitching prospect in the Boston organization, threw 84 pitches (47 strikes), allowing just three hits while walking four, striking out three and giving up one run in a 2-1 PawSox victory.

"Jon developed tonight," said PawSox skipper Ron Johnson. "There's nights when you take your real good stuff out there, but tonight he didn't have his command (and) his stuff got him through. After he came out (of the game), he was kind of disappointed, but you know what, that was an outstanding outing.

"He fell behind a lot of hitters and he had to stay mature and composed. I was very pleased with that tonight."

Lester's next start is at home on May 28th against the Norfolk Tides, the Mets AAA team. There he'll face one of his old Eastern League opponents, top prospect Lastings Milledge, who is off to a 286/ 437/ 448 start as the starting CF. Norfolk isn't a terribly strong offensive team, though 2B/ SS Anderson Hernandez has hit very well since coming off the DL for the Tides (after starting the year at Shea). He's batting at a 333/ 388/ 422 line. Watch out though, Jon- lurking as a utility IF is old friend... Jose "Hothands" Offerman. THE HOSE!

Tuesday, April 4th
Friday, April 7th
Friday, April 14th
Wednesday, April 19th
Thursday, April 27th
Tuesday, May 2nd
Sunday, May 7th
Wednesday, May 10th
Tuesday, May 16th
Thursday, May 18th
Monday, May 22nd

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