The kid is all right. Now we’ll see if he can pitch.
The Jon Lester story is a good one, and fans will rightly focus on his comeback from lymphoma and his return to a big league mound tonight. But after he takes the ball, Lester will do in Cleveland what he did in 14 starts in Pawtucket this season. He’ll try to get guys out.
“It really hasn’t hit home yet that that’s what I’m doing,” Lester told WBZ’s Dan Roche yesterday. “I’m trying to treat this as a normal start. Hopefully I can take that approach [tonight] and not get too amped up. I’m ready to go. It’s been a long wait.”
Lester was 4-5 with a 3.89 ERA in Pawtucket. He had 51 strikeouts in 71 2/3 innings, and opponents hit .250 against him in Triple A. By comparison, Kason Gabbard was 7-2 with a 3.42 ERA for the PawSox, also in 14 starts. Gabbard had 64 strikeouts, and opponents hit .235 against him.
Lester’s cumulative stats don’t tell the whole story. He gave up eight runs on June 25 at Louisville and five runs on July 13 against Syracuse. He didn’t give up more than three runs in any other start. He didn’t walk more than four batters in any of his 14 starts.
Lester, who won three of his last four starts in Pawtucket, pitches tonight on four days rest. He threw a bullpen session Sunday. The lefty has said all the right things. He’s easy to root for. He sounds like what he is, a 23-year-old kid.
“We got a good group down here [in Pawtucket],” Lester told Roche. “But it’s just a different atmosphere down there [in Boston]. That’s what every kid wants to do, do be up there with those guys and play in the big leagues.”
There will be no easing into it.
The Indians come into tonight’s game fourth in baseball in runs scored with 526 (the Red Sox have scored 500). Cleveland is eighth in the league with a .274 batting average.
On a positive note for Lester, Cleveland’s starting pitcher tonight is the struggling Jake Westbrook (1-5, 6.07 ERA). And the Red Sox have been killing the ball lately. But the focus won’t be on the Sox offense. The limelight will shine squarely on the young lefty.
“Hopefully I throw strike one, or I get it remotely close to Tek,” Lester told Roche. “I’m sure there will be a lot of nerves, a lot of energy.”