Jon Lester insisted that whatever benefit he got from an extra two days of rest coming out of the All-Star break was irrelevant two starts into the second half.
"I think it's kind of all null and void now," Lester said after Sunday's 5-0 win over the Orioles in Baltimore. "Any time you go out there and pitch, obviously it takes a lot of toll on your body. The rest was good for that [first] start. Now we're back to the grind of every five days and just going out there and competing."
But after watching Lester go seven scoreless innings and match his season high with eighth strikeouts, manager John Farrell saw it a little differently. Coupled with Lester's last start against Tampa Bay, when he gave up just two runs on seven hits in 6.1 innings, Lester won back-to-back starts for the first time since the end of June.
"At the time, he needed the extra days," Farrell said. "So it certainly paid off for him. We've seen increased command, similar to what he's shown over long periods during his career. So having a couple days just getting away from that first half has sat well with him."
Lester pounded the strike zone, throwing 65 of his 99 pitches for strikes, overpowering the Orioles. Between 50 sinkers, 26 four-seamers, and two cutters, he leaned heavily on his harder stuff.
"I'd say as far as power I feel like I've got more right now," Lester said. "It's just that part of the season where I feel like you get stronger right now, especially with your heater. As far as command, I think it's gotten a lot better through some ups and downs. But you always have to rely on your fastball. You start getting away from that, that's what gets you in trouble. So we were able to pound down-and-away today and get a lot of weak contact and get some outs."
The performance was timely. For most of his career, Lester dominated the Orioles, running off 14 straight wins, but he had lost his last two decisions against them. As a team, the Sox had lost six straight series to the Orioles dating to last season. With the win, Lester was able to get himself and his team back on track.
"Jon Lester pitching to the best of his capabilities is going to be one of the best pitchers in the league," Farrell said. "He's shown it the last couple times out. I think he's getting a better understanding of the overall pitch mix, how to be most effective. His changeup continues to be a good weapon for him. He was efficient once again today."