Jon Lester gets hit hard again as Nationals rout Cubs
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The numbers indicate that Jon Lester hasn’t been the pitcher he was during the first three months.
But manager Joe Maddon wasn’t buying it, saying before Lester took the mound Saturday against the Nationals that his “stuff looks exactly the same. He’s not tired; he’s not hurt. Sometimes the game just rolls with luck and bad luck [on] balls in play. I think he looks fine, actually.”
He didn’t look anywhere close to fine against the Nationals, actually.
Lester was pounded for nine runs — eight earned — and 10 hits in 3‰ innings during the Nationals’ 9-4 dismantling of the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
It was Lester’s third consecutive defeat, and in his last eight starts beginning on July 1, he has a 2-3 record with an 8.01 ERA. Lester is loath to let statistics tell the tale, but in the first three months, he was 10-2 with a 2.18 ERA.
“I don’t want to cop out on anything, but I guess I’m just in this rut right now,” Lester said. “I probably felt like that was some of the best stuff I’ve had over the last couple of starts, and that was the outcome.
“Unfortunately, the rotation has been throwing the ball well, and now I’m the guy that’s not. That’s a bad feeling . . . personally just as a teammate, letting the team down, the bullpen down, all of the above. I’ll continue to work and continue to try to figure it out and make an adjustment.”
After the game, Maddon doubled down on his assessment of Lester, reiterating that nothing seems to have changed with him.
“From the naked eye on the sidelines, I don’t see a whole lot different,” Maddon said. “If a guy is injured or there is a dramatic drop-off in something, then of course I’d become more concerned. But I’m not seeing that. He looks the same to me.”
Lester didn’t have it from the get-go as Ryan Zimmerman launched the first of his two home runs off him in the first to give the Nats a 2-0 lead.
Washington tacked on another in the third before the Cubs did their only early damage off Nationals starter Tanner Roark when Javy Baez drove in a run with a sacrifice fly.
The Nationals dropped a six-spot on Lester in the fourth, highlighted by a two-run homer from Daniel Murphy and a three-run bomb from Zimmerman. The Cubs later got two RBI from Ben Zobrist and one from Willson Contreras, but by that time the game was essentially over.
Despite Lester’s struggles, there isn’t wide-ranging concern in the Cubs’ clubhouse that he won’t turn it around.
“[This game] was pretty bad as far as results, but these are the ebbs and flows of the season,” Lester said. “Unfortunately, I’m pretty down right now as far as where I’ve been pitching and getting innings, [and] my start day hasn’t been great. I need to pick that part up.
‘‘I’ve been through it before and come out the other end just fine. I have to keep working.”
Rizzo, whose single in the third was his 1000th career hit, expressed his confidence in Lester’s ability to bounce back.
“This is what happens,’’ Rizzo said. ‘‘You go through good times during the season, and you go through bad times during the season. It doesn’t matter who you are. I think 99.9 percent of the league goes through it. [Lester] is the ultimate pro, so we’re not too worried.”