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Lester no early riser

April, May woes irksome to lefty

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / April 18, 2010

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Jon Lester, frankly, is embarrassed at how he has pitched in April and May since arriving in the big leagues in 2006.

One of the best starters in the game for most of the season, the lefthander is just another guy during the first two months, going 7-11 with an ERA of 4.76 in his career.

“Every year I tell myself it’s not going to happen, and it still does,’’ said Lester, who is scheduled to face the Tampa Bay Rays this afternoon. “If I had an answer, I would try and fix it.’’

Lester is 0-1 with a 7.20 ERA in two starts this season, allowing eight earned runs on 14 hits and six walks over only 10 innings. This is the same pitcher who is 35-6 with a 3.35 ERA once the calendar hits June 1.

A closer look at the statistics reveals that Lester does not pitch as badly in April and May as his record would indicate. He averages 7.85 strikeouts per nine innings in April and May, nearly identical to the 7.86 he averages the remainder of the season. Lester’s WHIP in April and May is 1.49, only a touch higher than the 1.29 he has otherwise.

But the results don’t follow.

“He allows the same number of hits and walks, but they’re clustered early in the season,’’ pitching coach John Farrell said. “It’s something he can control and it’s something we’re working on.’’

Farrell said Lester is not unlike other power pitchers. CC Sabathia of the Yankees historically has needed a few starts to gain his rhythm and build arm strength.

It’s not something that can be created in spring training. Lester has tried, adding to his workload in the hopes of starting the season with better command of his pitches. But it’s not that easy.

“This year I’ve felt better coming into the season than I have in the past. I don’t know why this has happened,’’ Lester said. “I’ve thought about it a lot. If there were something I could do in the offseason or in spring training, I would do it.’’

Farrell has counseled Lester to accept the idea that there will be physical limitations early in the season and to learn to work with what he does have. But that is easier for a more veteran pitcher. The 26-year-old Lester is still learning the finer points.

“I don’t want him to be so attached to the end result. Just go pitch to pitch,’’ Farrell said. “A lot of times in the beginning of the year, there’s anxiety built up trying to put up good numbers. When that’s not readily emerging, sometimes it distracts you and can take away from a consistent approach.’’

Lester acknowledged that has been the case.

“Obviously you want to start good,’’ he said. “You always want to get on an early run. The key to pitching is getting into a good rhythm every five days and keeping it going. If you can do that, the more success you’ll have.

“When you’re struggling early and struggling and struggling, it’s hard to get in that rhythm. Everything in sports is the final result. That’s the whole thing.’’

Lester will take his time against the Rays today and not let a few hits blunt his confidence. That he is annoyed with how he has pitched so far can’t be part of his thinking.

“Any situation when it starts going wrong, it’s hard not to let that enter your mind,’’ he said. “It’s part of the mental game you always have to battle. It’s hard to do sometimes. You have to step off and slow the game down and say, ‘I’m one pitch away from getting out of this.’ You have to keep pounding those things home.’’

The good news, of course, is that history suggests Lester will eventually return to form.

“I kind of figure it’s going to turn around,’’ he said. “It has to. I can’t go through the whole season pitching like I do in April and May. But everybody wants it now, they want it yesterday. I understand that. I feel the same way.’’

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