COMMENTARY | Jon Lester is very adamant that he is still an ace. Speaking to the media before spring training, he let it be known that he expects to get back to being a star. The 29-year-old has had a rough run lately for the Boston Red Sox. However, with a solid spring, Lester could be back on the way to where he and Red Sox Nation expect him to be on top.
It all started in the fall of 2011. Much like the rest of the Red Sox, Lester struggled to get through that dreadful month of September. The month where Boston was just 7-20, and blew a nine-game lead, ultimately missing the playoffs. Lester had a 14-6 record and a 3.09 ERA heading into September. He went just 1-3 with a 5.40 ERA to close out that 2011 season. While the overall numbers (15-9, 3.47 ERA) for the 2011 season are respectable, closing the year the way he did put a damper on his successful start.
Lester came out strong in 2012, going at least seven innings in five of his first six games. However, by the time June came around, Lester's ERA had skyrocketed to 4.79. Lester would battle the entire season, but never found that "ace" stuff. He would finish 2012 with a 9-14 record and an ERA 4.82, the highest of his career. It was also the first time he hadn't won at least 10 games as a full-time starter.
A year and a month later Lester came into 2013 with little fanfare. No longer were there questions about being a possible CY Young candidate. Those questions were replaced with concern about whether or not he could reverse his fortune.
A funny thing has happened during spring training. Lester is getting his mojo back -- and getting it back in a big way. Lester has thrown 20 innings, allowing just two earned runs. His WHIP is an incredible .50, and he has struck out 16. In his last start, Lester threw six perfect innings against the Tampa Bay Rays. While lineups can be rather sparse during the spring, Tampa had most of its regulars starting in that contest.
This is exactly what Lester needed. Sure, games in the spring hold no technical value when the regular season begins. But just looking at his performances on paper, while watching his command and control, has to inspire confidence in even to the most skeptical Boston fan.
The Red Sox don't necessarily need Lester to be an elite starter. However, he needs to be solid. And with just five active starters, the Red Sox need him to be healthy. A good first half could go a long way in 2013, especially with how open the American League East looks. The New York Yankees are dealing with significant injuries. The Baltimore Orioles need to prove they aren't one-trick ponies. The Tampa Bay Rays need to find a lineup. Even the Toronto Blue Jays have a lot of new players to integrate. While the expectations will be low for Boston, a solid start with Lester can help keep the pressure on the rest of the division.
It wasn't that long ago that Lester was a Cy Young candidate. The two-time All-Star finished fourth in the voting in 2010. Lester has thrown over 200 innings in four of his five seasons of full-time work. He has struck out over 180 in three of those years. Lester's ERA has been under 4.00 in four of those seasons as well. There is no question that he has the ability (or potential) to make a significant contribution to the Sox.
Chris Sedenka is a Yahoo! Contributor in Sports covering the Boston Red Sox. You can listen to his daily radio show on 96.3FM in Portland, ME or at thebigjab.com. He is also the voice of the Maine Red Claws of the NBA D-League.
You can follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisSedenka.
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