Jon Lester's contract is guaranteed only through the end of this season. The Red Sox hold a $13 million option on him for 2014 or can pay a $250,000 buyout.
For a team like the Red Sox, $13 million for a lefthanded starter who turns 30 in January is not particularly onerous. Odds are that the Sox will keep Lester for at least another season.
But when Lester pitches like he did on Friday, you can't help but wonder. Lester lasted only 4.1 innings against Arizona, giving up six runs on 11 hits. Of those 11 hits, five were doubles and one a home run by Paul Goldschmidt that practically punched a hole in the Monster Seats.
It was the shortest start of the season for Lester and the most hits he has allowed. After he showed improvement over three starts, Friday was a reversal.
Arizona is a contender in the National League West. But their team OPS of .710 is just a few points better than the NL average. The Diamondbacks also played at Tampa Bay on Wednesday before going to Texas for a makeup game on Thursday then on to Boston.
“Ball was just up in the zone. Misfired a lot of balls. It wasn’t a good night,” Lester said. “Fastball was up. Changeup was up. Curveball felt like it was better than it has been in a while. Tonight was never really able to get to it.”
In his last 60 starts — the equivalent of two seasons — Lester is 19-23 with a 4.89 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP. He has averaged 7.4 strikeouts per nine innings.
In the 150 games prior, Lester was 76-31 with a 3.43 ERA, a 1.28 WHIP and 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings.
A 43-percent jump in ERA over two seasons is troubling, especially considering there is no injury to blame. Lester is still fairly young, but he made his MLB debut at 22 and has 1,308.1 innings under his belt.
The Red Sox have Clay Buchholz, Ryan Dempster, Felix Doubront, John Lackey and Jake Peavy under control for next season. Buchholz, Doubront and Lackey are under control for 2015.
In Drake Britton, Rubby De La Rosa, Anthony Ranaudo, Allen Webster, Brandon Workman and Steven Wright, the Red Sox have six young starters who have shown promise. All are either in the majors or at Triple A.
The easy move would be to retain Lester and maintain as much starter depth as possible. That is probably what will happen, too. The Sox will trust John Farrell and Juan Nieves to help Lester make the transition all veteran starters eventually must when their physical abilities diminish.
But if the final two months of the season are more of the same, the Red Sox could have a difficult decision to make on a pitcher they've been immensely proud of developing.
• Lefty reliever Franklin Morales, who is on the disabled list with a strained pectoral muscle, is scheduled to pitch for Pawtucket on Saturday and Sunday. He will be evaluated after that. With Craig Breslow, Matt Thornton and Britton already in the bullpen, the Sox have no need of another lefthander so some sort of adjustment will be needed.
• Dustin Pedroia spent some time before the game catching up with Arizona catcher Tuffy Gosewisch, his teammate at Arizona State University from 2002-04. Their freshman class produced six big leaguers. Mike Esposito, Andre Ethier, Ian Kinsler and Jeff Larish are the others.
• David Ortiz hit his first home run at Fenway since June 9.
• Daniel Nava has been hit by a pitch 12 times, tying Minnesota’s Josh Willingham for the most in the majors.