|Daniel Nava glumly returns to the dugout after striking out in the first, the start of a long night for the Red Sox offense. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)|
Red Sox’ win streak ends
Braves capitalize on Lester’s uneven start
Jon Lester is a World Series champion, a two-time All-Star, and in the middle of a long-term contract. At 28, the lefthanded ace of the Red Sox should be at the peak of his career, a time to look back on someday and treasure.
Heck, he’s even doing commercials for pickup trucks and banks.
Instead it has been a season of misery for Lester, one of good starts followed by bad ones and sleepless nights wondering what happened and how to fix it.
Friday night’s 4-1 loss against the Atlanta Braves was the latest example.
Lester allowed only three runs over seven innings but gave up 10 hits along with an assortment of line-drive outs. Lester hadn’t faced the Braves since the second start of his career in 2006. But they hit him hard in every inning.
Lester is 4-5 with a 4.48 earned run average. The Red Sox are 6-9 in games he has started and anger is replacing frustration.
“I’m getting tired of the same old [expletive]. I’m making good pitches and they’re getting hit. I don’t know what else to do,’’ Lester said. “The process is there, I’m just not getting results. It’s the same book, different chapter for me.’’
Wins and losses do not necessarily reflect a starter’s performance. But it’s worth noting that Lester has one victory in the last month. If the Red Sox are to contend this season, the rotation must improve and it starts with Lester.
Lester has cut down on walks, an occasional problem in recent seasons. But he has allowed an average of 9.7 hits per nine innings, up from 7.8 last season and 7.2 in 2010.
Some of that is bad luck. But some of it is leaving pitches where they can be hit.
“I don’t know,’’ said Lester when asked about his abnormal season. “I’m not up in the zone; I’m down in the corners and still getting whacked around. I’m at a loss right now.’’
Lester said his mechanics are fine and that he’s healthy.
“I’m throwing the ball fine. I’m just not getting the results. I don’t think it’s mental,’’ he said. “I’m mentally prepared and physically prepared every start and I go out and compete. That’s all I can do. I can’t worry about anything else.’’
Like teammates Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez, Lester is an underperforming star. Manager Bobby Valentine is treading carefully in these cases.
“A lot of really good pitches got hit,’’ said Valentine, whose team had a five-game win streak snapped. “I thought he threw the ball extremely well. He could have won that game very easily.’’
Valentine is being charitable given the success the Braves had.
Freddie Freeman started the fourth inning with a single to right. After Chipper Jones lined out, Jason Heyward doubled off the wall in left-center. Freeman stopped at third.
Matt Diaz grounded to shortstop, scoring Freeman. But No. 9 hitter Andrelton Simmons, a 22-year-old rookie from Curacao playing in his 18th game, doubled down the line in left to score Heyward.
The Atlanta lead grew to 3-0 in the sixth inning. Heyward led off with a double down the line in right. Diaz followed with a line drive that Cody Ross was fortunate to stab in right field. Heyward tagged up and went to third. Simmons drove in another run with a sacrifice fly to right.
Lester stood and watched from the mound, waving his glove at the throw home from Ross.
Jair Jurrjens enjoyed a successful return to the majors, holding the Sox to one run on three hits over 7 2/3 innings.
Jurrjens was an All-Star last season. But a 9.37 earned run average in four April starts earned him a demotion to Triple A Gwinnett.
Jurrjens was not particularly impressive in the minors, going 3-4 with a 5.18 ERA in 10 starts. But when the Braves lost Brandon Beachy to an elbow injury, Jurrjens was recalled and faced the Red Sox for the first time since 2009.
“He was like I remembered, a very good pitcher,’’ Ross said. “He didn’t give us much to hit.’’
The Sox had one hit in the first seven innings, a single by Gonzalez in the first. Down 3-0, the Sox awoke when Will Middlebrooks doubled to start the bottom of the eighth.
He scored on a two-out double to center by Daniel Nava. Dustin Pedroia was next and he saw seven pitches from reliever Chad Durbin before grounding to shortstop.
Pedroia shook his head as he crossed first base. He is 9 for 62 (.145) in 15 games since missing six games with a torn muscle in his right thumb and is hitless in his last 10 at-bats.
The Sox may regret not putting Pedroia on the disabled list when they had a chance. His batting average is down to .260 and he has only 26 RBIs.
“I thought his swings tonight were pretty good,’’ said Valentine, who doesn’t plan to drop Pedroia out of the second spot. “They’re pitching him tough. He hasn’t got pitches he can drive. He’ll get hot. Hotter than a firecracker.’’