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Athletics frustrated by strike zone, acknowledge Jon Lester’s dominance

05.03.14 at 5:58 pm ET
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A visibly frustrated Bob Melvin sat in the visitor’s clubhouse manager’s office, arms crossed. The Oakland Athletics manager clearly was not happy with his team’s performance against Red Sox lefty Jon Lester.

Throughout the day — which resulted in a 6-3 Red Sox win — Lester spotted corners with high frequency and en route to a career-high 15 strikeouts. But when asked about what Lester had working, Melvin seemed to offer a slight disclaimer to the performance.

“His cutter,” Melvin said. “On both sides of the plate. Big plate.”

On multiple occasions, Athletics hitters were seen talking to umpire D.J. Reyburn about the strike zone, often frustrated after another punch out. Lester’s elite command over the strike zone allowed him to toy with hitters all day. At the end of his eight-inning performance, Lester allowed only one hit and two walks. There was nothing the team could do with Lester’s cutter according to A’s third baseman Josh Donaldson.

“Cutters in, cutters off the plate were called for strikes,” Donaldson said. “What are you gonna do? You’re up there trying to battle and he did a good job today. What he did a great job of was throwing the back-door cutter but a lot of us had a different opinion of it being called strikes so he’s left-handed, throwing from the left side of the rubber. It’s one of those pitches on TV that probably looks like a strike but when you’re in the box, we have a pretty good idea of where the ball is at and so with that being said, he still had to throw it there.”

Shortstop Jed Lowrie thought Lester did a good job taking advantage of the bigger strikezone.

“When a guy is throwing like he is, it’s easy to find a reason why you’re not getting hits,” Lowrie said. “Even if he was [getting outside pitches called strikes], he did a great job of taking advantage of it.”

Throughout the outing, Lester spotted his cutter at will. According to PitchFX, Lester threw 72.7% of his cutters for strikes, generating swings on 16 cutters and six swings and misses. Lester’s ability to mix and match his four-seam fastball (which maxed out at 96.1 mph), sinker and cutter allowed him to toy with Athletics inning after inning.

“He did a good job, it seemed like every batter he was throwing strike one and just as soon as you started looking for one side of the plate, here he comes on the other side,” Donaldson said. “He mixed speeds just enough to keep you off balance.”

“He had command of that cutter, command of that fastball, curveball,” said second baseman Nick Punto. “He kept off-balance with it but for the most part, he was spotting it up with that fastball and cutter and he did a great job.”

Punto, who spent part of the 2012 season with the Red Sox, believes that Lester has grown and developed on the mound since his time in Boston.

“[Lester] just looked like he’s pitching with a lot of confidence,” Punto said. “He’s been a stuff guy, a guy with really good stuff and it looks like he’s putting it all together.”

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