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Jon Lester reaches 200-inning goal while continuing to roll

09.14.13 at 5:59 pm ET
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Jon Lester reached 200 innings while dominating the Yankees on Saturday.. (AP)

Jon Lester reached 200 innings while dominating the Yankees on Saturday.. (AP)

Jon Lester‘s number one goal every year is to pitch 200 innings. He figures that if he can do that, it means he’s been a dependable starter. It means he’s been the innings-eater the Red Sox expect him to be. On Saturday, in yet another dominant performance, Lester reached the 200-inning mark for the fifth time in the last six seasons.

“That’s the one goal, individual goal, that I set every year for myself,” Lester said. “Make every start that I can and go 200 innings. When you’re on a good team like this, the rest of it takes care of itself. That’s really all you can control, is the innings. It’s something I take pride in. It’s something I work towards every year.”

While 200 innings is a benchmark pretty much every starter strives for, it doesn’t mean nearly as much if they’re not a good 200 innings.

Take Lester’s 2012 season for example. He tossed 205 1/3 innings on the year, but had a 4.82 ERA and 1.38 WHIP — both worse than the league average. Although those innings still carried some value and spared other arms, Lester wasn’t always giving his team a chance to win.

That hasn’t been the case in 2013. Sure, there was that rough patch from mid-May to early July, but Lester has made sure that stretch didn’t turn into another rough season.

Since July 13, Lester has posted a 2.52 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 12 starts. Eleven of those 12 outings have been quality starts, and he’s gone seven innings or more in seven of them. And Lester has only gotten better the deeper the season has gone. Following his eight-inning, one-run performance in Saturday’s 5-1 win over the Yankees, Lester now has a minuscule 1.86 ERA over his last eight starts.

“Above and beyond [the number of innings], they’ve been outstanding innings pitched for the better part of his career,” said manager John Farrell. “I think every starter goes into a season thinking 200 innings is a minimum that you’d like to get to. That proves you’ve put in the work, been consistent, stayed healthy.

“[Saturday] was probably an example of the bulk of his career that we’ve talked about. He was powerful. He had good command inside the strike zone. He pitched in effectively to both lefties and righties. Just a very solid, very good eight innings of work.”

A lot of the credit for Lester getting back on track in July has been given to the fact that he was given 10 days of rest in the middle of the month to recharge and refocus.

While Lester didn’t want to talk about things that happened two months ago — he said he’s trying to just stay focused on the present — Farrell said there was more to Lester’s turnaround than just the rest.

“I can’t say that’s the only reason,” Farrell said. “At the time, it was needed. But what he’s done since the All-Star break has been consistent with how he started the season, and that’s been a front-line starter. That’s who Jon Lester is.”

Part of being that front-line starter is being confident. Farrell said he’s seeing Lester have the type of confidence he had earlier in his career, when he was one of the top pitchers in the league from 2008 until the infamous September 2011 collapse.

“When Jon is executing pitches, it gives him clarity on the mound,” Farrell said. “What I mean by clarity is, there’s no indecision with pitch selection. He’s got confidence to go to a given pitch when he needs to get a strike. It’s more about him having confidence in his pitches.

“That’s what reduces the frustration with him and allows him to not carry the previous pitch into the next one. That frustration is eliminated. And that’s where he’s been for pretty much the whole year, with the exception of that month stretch where things were a little hit and miss with him.”

Now Farrell and the Red Sox are hoping Lester can stay there into October. Two months ago, it wasn’t too far-fetched to imagine a playoff rotation that didn’t include the struggling Lester. Now he has a strong case to be the team’s Game 1 starter.

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