Saturday, April 25, 2009

Lester unhappy with own nibbling

At times, Jon Lester was really sharp. At other times, well, not so much.

In the second inning, for example, the Red Sox lefty fanned Nick Swisher with a 93-mile-an-hour fastball right on the inside corner and Robinson Cano with a 96-mile-an-hour fastball on the outside corner. (Because Swisher was hitting righty and Cano lefty, the two pitches hit pretty much the exact same spot.)

After he issused a pair of walks, he then made Cody Ransom look silly to end the inning; when an appeal of a two-strike check swing went the Yankees' way, Lester came back with a nasty cutter down and in. Ransom had no chance.

"At times, I was pretty good," he said. "At other times, I wasn't."

The pitch count, more than anything else, bears that out. He threw 114 pitches -- including 102 pitches through the first five innings. Even in that second inning when he struck out the side, he threw 25 pitches.

The final line actually looks pretty decent -- six innings, seven hits, two runs, seven strikeouts -- but a little bit of inefficiency cost him a chance to go back out for the seventh inning.

"I don't think I let it play in the zone as much as I should have," he said. "I could have attacked hitters a little bit more. I got into a mode where I was nitpicking quite a bit, trying to make a perfect pitch, instead of just going after guys and letting the ball play. It got me into some deep counts and got the pitch count up."

One of those occasions came against light-hitting catcher Jose Molina with one out and a runner on first base in the fourth inning. Lester missed twice to start off the at-bat, both with fastballs up -- part of the reason for that, probably, was to guard against Melky Cabrera stealing second base. He then came back with a fastball in the strike zone that Molina missed and a cutter up and out of the strike zone that Molina also missed.

Molina then fouled off another fastball in the strike zone to keep the count steady at 2-2.

But that's when Lester started to nibble. A fastball down in the zone might have induced an inning-ending double play, but the 25-year-old lefty went for the jugular with a fastball off the inside corner. Molina didn't chase. Ball three.

Lester then threw another fastball off the plate away, again looking for Molina to chase. No dice. Ball four.

Lester then missed twice to Ransom before leaving a fastball right where he could whack it for a double to score the Yankees' first run.

"You get into that mindset where you're trying to make perfect-location pitches all the time," he said. "I guess you just have to get into the flow of things and get into your game plan and try to execute pitches. At times, I did that pretty well. At times, it got my into some deep counts -- and with the Yankees, you can't do that."

Lester pointed specifically to an at-bat by Johnny Damon in the third inning as an example of nibbling and nitpicking. His memory wasn't exactly right -- he remembered going to an 0-2 count even though it went to 1-1 and then 1-2 -- but the point he made still was interesting.

"I got ahead of him 0-2 and then 1-2 and then 2-2 and then 3-2," he said. "Instead of just going right back after him 0-2, I started nitpicking around and trying to do stuff we normally don't do" -- including a curveball in the dirt, well out of the strike zone -- "and that's my fault, not 'Tek's fault at all. I've got to do a better job of executing pitches. Once I've got a guy 0-2, I've got, really, two shots to throw pitches out of the zone and see if he chases and if he doesn't, to go right back into the zone and see if we can get him out that way."

And while he was well aware of how high his pitch count was -- "It's hard not to notice; it's up on the big screen out in center field" -- he did his best not to let that affect him. His final inning, in fact, might have been his most effective inning. He got Melky Cabrera to fly to center field (albeit deep center field) and allowed a single to left off the bat of Molina but induced a double-play ball to get out of it.

"If you start getting wrapped up in pitch counts and how many pitches you're throwing, you're not focusing on the right thing," he said. "I knew I had a lot of pitches coming out of the fifth, but I was hoping Tito and John (Farrell) would let me go back out there for the sixth. ... It was good to end on a pretty clean note. I threw some good pitches in that last inning, so I'll carry that over to the last start."

No comments: