ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Red Sox needed Jon Lester to go deep into the game Tuesday night and give them a chance to win after Monday’s marathon at Tropicana Field.
He failed. The lefty gave up seven runs on eight hits and seven walks, which matched his career high. He threw 98 pitches over 4 2/3 innings.
“I let the team down when we needed a big start tonight. That solely rests on me, nobody else,” Lester said.
A bigger concern is the sharp downward turn Lester’s season has taken.
He was 6-0 with a 2.72 earned run average in his first nine starts of the season. The Sox won seven of those games. The lefthander is 0-3 with a 6.90 ERA in the five starts since. Over 30 innings he has allowed 38 hits — six of them home runs — with 18 walks.
Clay Buchholz has twice had starts pushed back this season because of minor injuries and now Lester is struggling. A Red Sox rotation that once looked strong is showing signs of wear at the top with 60 percent of the season still to play.
“All good players are going to go through peaks and valleys,” manager John Farrell said. “This is a turn through the rotation we’re having to grind a little bit.”
Control issues often indicate a pitcher is dealing with an injury and Lester has thrown 115 or more pitches in six of his starts. But he said with conviction that he feels fine.
“I honestly do,” Lester said. “I know pitch count has been a thing this year. But tonight I felt great, probably the best I’ve felt all season.”
Said Farrell: “It’s nothing physical. We’re still seeing consistent velocity. It’s just the overall consistent command.”
All seven runs the Rays scored came with two outs. In his last five starts, opponents have hit .438 against Lester with two outs.
But Farrell believes that is coincidental. Lester needs across-the-board fundamental improvement, he said.
“To the naked eye, to sit there and say that there’s one exact thing at this point, that’s pretty difficult to pinpoint,” Farrell said. “We’ve got some work to do with Jon.”
• Jose Iglesias was 2 for 4 and raised his batting average to .449. His 14-game hit streak is the longest for an American League rookie this season.
• Righthander Jose De La Torre, summoned from Triple A Pawtucket to shore up the bullpen replaced Lester and finished the game, throwing 52 pitches. Although the move was not announced, he will probably be returned to the minors to make room for Alfredo Aceves, who starts Wednesday.
“It was good that I finished the game and nobody had to come in,” De La Torre said.
As De La Torre spoke to reporters, Lester interrupted briefly to shake his hand.
“Good job,” he said. “Thanks for picking me up.”
• Mike Napoli had a two-run single after David Ortiz was intentionally walked in the third inning. He is 2 for 3 with two homers, a walk and seven RBIs after Ortiz is intentionally walked this season.