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Extra Bases

Lester and Pierzynski an Odd Couple?

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AP Photo

In his previous start, May 16 against the Tigers at Fenway Park, the opener of the six-game homestand, Jon Lester was paired up with catcher David Ross. It was a pairing that seemed a bit unusual at the time. Ross had caught the previous day, making it the first time he was behind the plate for back-to-back games this season and just the third time in the regular season in his two years with the Sox.

And, with A.J. Pierzynski’s numbers against Detroit starter Max Scherzer – 11-for-33 with a home run, a triple, a double, and seven RBI -- it would have seemed logical for him to be in the lineup.

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But manager John Farrell said at the time he wanted to maintain the pairing of Lester and Ross. Indeed, the two had been successful together this season. In their seven outings together, Lester is 4-3 with a 2.39 ERA. In 49 innings, he had allowed 15 runs, 13 earned, on 34 hits and 11 walks with 58 strikeouts and two home runs.

So, perhaps it may have seemed a bit unusual to see Pierzynski’s name in the lineup for Lester’s start Thursday night against the Blue Jays.

But, Pierzynski knows Toronto starter Mark Buehrle well from their time together with the White Sox. And Pierzynski has been successful against the left-hander when he’s opposed him, going 10-for-25 (.400) with three RBI.

The pairing, though, didn’t work out Thursday. Pierzynski went 1-for-3 against Buehrle.

And Lester had a dreadful outing against the Blue Jays. In 6 1/3 innings he gave up a season-high seven earned runs on 10 hits, one less than his season high, and two walks with three strikeouts. Lester allowed two home runs – on back-to-back pitches in the first inning to Melky Cabrera and Jose Bautista. Entering the game he had allowed just three home runs in his previous nine starts, spanning 60 2/3 innings.

He needed 30 pitches to get through the second, when he gave up five runs – matching a season high for Sox pitchers in an inning this season – as the Blue Jays batted around.

Lester recovered, though, to record 12 straight outs from the second out of the second inning before Kevin Pillar’s one-out single in the sixth. But he worked behind for most of his outing. He faced 30 batters but threw first-pitch strikes to just 10 batters, including just three of the first 15 when the Blue Jays scored all their runs.

In three starts with Pierzynski, Lester is now 0-3 with a 6.00 ERA, giving up 17 runs, 12 earned, on 27 hits and seven walks with 18 strikeouts and three home runs.

Farrell acknowledged there can be a comfort level between a pitcher and catcher.

“Yeah, there’s a comfort level between Jon and David Ross,” he said. “But given where we are offensively and the history that A.J. had against Buehrle coming into this trying to get offense wherever we could. I’m not saying their rapport isn’t workable, but I think just the numbers bear out that Jon has had some comfort level, there’s more history with he and David. But I’m not going to focus on that being the difference in [Thursday’s] game.”

It wasn’t a matter of who was behind the plate, Lester said.

“I don’t make any of those decisions,” Lester said. “I don’t care. They’re obviously both big league catchers. I just try to hit my spots wherever we talk about (how) we’re going to throw the ball.”

Pierzynksi wanted no part of the conversation.

“Nope,” he said. “I’m not answering that question anymore. It doesn’t matter. You guys keep bringing that up but Jon and I had the first, Opening day, we did well together. And then [Thursday] was just one of those days things didn’t work out. It had nothing to do with me catching. You guys can say that all you want but I had nothing to do with that.”