EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 27, 2013

Time for Lester to do what Lackey is doing

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

---- — BOSTON — With Red Sox ace Clay Buchholz on the sidelines since June 8, the club needed Jon Lester to step up.

Instead, he’s been a disaster.

He has allowed 17 earned runs over three starts lasting just 15.1 innings. That’s a woeful 9.98 ERA when Boston needed him most. During that span, Lester’s ERA has increased nearly an entire run to 4.57.

Only one word describes that mess — unacceptable.

“We’ve got to get Jon Lester back on track,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “There’s no denying that. ... And there are signs within each outing that (his return to form) is imminent.”

Farrell my be optimistic, I am, however, calling out Lester. He hasn’t stepped up to the challenge of leading the rotation with Buchholz sidelined. Instead of being the ace, he has withered back into his unreliable 2012 form.

Without Buchholz, Lester should be the one giving the Red Sox a chance to win every time he starts — like John Lackey has been doing. Lackey was the winner here yesterday. He has started four games since Buchholz last pitched. In three of those four, Lackey went 7.0 innings and allowed just two runs in each.

Lester needs to take a few lessons from Lackey. The struggling lefty takes the mound today here at Fenway Park against the surging Toronto Blue Jays — winners of 12 of their past 14 games — and he finally needs to pitch the way he is capable of. No more giving up two-out runs in bunches.

No more fuming over calls and letting his emotions get the better of him. No more nibbling around the strike zone. No more four-run innings.

Can vintage Lester finally return when this team needs him the most? You know, the Lester who dominated from 2008 through September 2011 but has been absent ever since except for fleeting periods of dominance.

We saw the dominant Lester earlier this year when he was 6-0 with a 2.72 ERA on May 15. His ERA has since soared.

Farrell reassured that Lester is healthy and doing a good job of repeating his delivery.

“It’s the consistency (and) execution particularly with two outs when you get into a situation with men on base,” Farrell said.

“I think at times, he’ll rush a little bit to try to get through an inning and that might cause that inning to be prolonged. One example is the 0-2 base hit to Torii Hunter the other day (in Detroit). ... The extra-base hit seems to be the focal point, (but) it’s the things that lead up to that. And that’s where we are honing in on.”

Lester remains a mystery. Maybe he is losing some of his focus as innings progress. Farrell doesn’t think the lefty’s poor stretch will continue.

“He’s too talented a pitcher,” Farrell said.

But weren’t we all saying that same thing almost the entire 2012 season?

Toronto is the hottest team in baseball so Lester must be at his best tonight and get this four-game series off on the right foot.

“It’s in those situations where he’s in, that 22-to-25 pitch range, (he needs) to execute a pitch and put up a zero and shut a threat off,” Farrell said.

Recently, Lester has failed miserably at that. But there is plenty of season left to rebound, starting tonight.

Buchholz in no rush

Before yesterday afternoon’s 5-3 win over Colorado, Buchholz (on 15-day DL with neck strain) insisted again that he won’t pitch until he’s 100 percent healthy.

Buchholz still feels discomfort in the neck when throwing off the mound. He had an MRI yesterday. Considering Buchholz’s recovery time and the minor league rehab starts he will need to make, he likely won’t make another start for Boston until after the All-Star Break.

He, however, is not ruling out pitching before then.

“It’s hard to tell yourself to go 80 percent when you’re pitching at this level,” Buchholz said. “And I’ve never been one to do that. So that’s sort of the reason why I don’t feel like it’s right for me to go back out there when I’m 80 percent. I think I’m doing the team an injustice.”

Before Buchholz’s MRI result returns, I’m not going to accuse him of having a low pain tolerance and won’t call him out for not pitching until he’s 100 percent.

He has his reasons for not pitching. He said he has never dealt with a neck injury before and doesn’t want to overcompensate, leading to more injury woes.

Red Sox 5, Colorado 3 Star of Game: John Lackey threw 7.0 innings, allowing just two runs, both earned, on eight hits and no walks while striking out 12. His ERA stands at 2.99 after 13 starts. "Even in the offseason, we felt like he was one guy who had a chance to impact our team as much as anyone and he's doing that," manager John Farrell said. "He's kind of taken on a great significance as we go deeper into the season." No. 2 Star: Shane Victorino went 3 for 4 with a double, RBI and two runs. He is batting .298. "When he's healthy ... he's been dynamic type of player for us," Farrell said. Comfy ninth: New closer Koji Uehara, who replaced the struggling Andrew Bailey, pitched a 1-2-3 ninth, striking out two. Offensive surge: Over two games vs. Colorado, the Red Sox stroked 30 hits. Toronto in town: The Red Sox start a four-game home series today against the Blue Jays, who have won 12 of their past 14 games.