Lester frustrated by control issues

Lester frustrated by control issues

CLEVELAND -- If you are a Red Sox fan growing frustrated with Jon Lester's old habits dying hard -- high pitch counts, high walk totals and early exits -- you are not alone.

Nobody is growing more agitated by the continuing phenomenon than Lester himself. The lefty took what, for him, was an unusual step of not speaking with the media after Monday's start. That was only a sign of Lester's disappointment with himself.

By Tuesday, Lester was still frustrated, but willing to express his thoughts in a public forum.

What is irking him the most?

"Walks," Lester said. "It's a continuous battle to not walk people, and it seems like that's what my game plan is every five days is to not walk people. Not necessarily to attack guys or game plan on what pitches I want to throw. It's basically to not walk people, and it just keeps snowballing into something worse."

Lester opened the season in Tokyo, throwing 83 pitches and walking three over four innings against the Athletics. He allowed four runs, three of which came on one mistake pitch to Emil Brown. His next start in Oakland was a big step forward, as Lester fired 6 2/3 shutout innings.

But last week at Fenway Park, Lester took a loss to the Tigers, walking four and giving up four runs over 5 1/3 innings and 96 pitches. Then, there was Monday night in Cleveland, where he retired the first nine batters he faced -- only to leave with an unsavory stat line (4 1/3 innings, five hits, four runs, five walks, three strikeouts and 97 pitches).

"It seems like in Spring Training, I'd take a couple of steps forward and then go back, and in Japan, I thought I threw the ball fairly well. One pitch got me in Japan," said Lester, who is 1-2 with a 5.31 ERA. "In Oakland, I felt like I threw the ball really well and took a couple of steps forward, and then these past two starts, it's just been jumping backwards. Hopefully, this next couple of months, I can jump a couple of steps forward and keep going forward instead of trying to go back."

Ever since making his Major League debut for the Red Sox in June 2006, Lester has been lauded for his poise and his strong arsenal of pitches. But he hasn't quite put it together just yet, which isn't entirely surprising for a pitcher who is just 24 years old.

As much positive reinforcement as Lester continues to get from catcher Jason Varitek and pitching coach John Farrell, he is starting to get impatient. Does Lester feel like he's close to taking his game to the next level and putting his control problems behind him?

"People keep telling me I am. I don't know," said Lester. "Personally, I don't think I am. But 'Tek keeps telling me and Johnny keeps telling me that I'm close and everything's right there. I've got to just keep plugging away."

Lester is adamant that his problems aren't mechanical.

"It has nothing to do with mechanics," Lester said. "It's just a matter of going out and attacking hitters and throwing strikes. It has nothing to do with mechanics."

Did Lester sleep better because the Red Sox came back in the ninth inning and won the game on Manny Ramirez's dramatic home run?

"Definitely you do," said Lester. "Like I said, the main thing is that we won that game. Manny had a big hit, [Kevin Youkilis] had a big hit. It was a good team win, and it built a lot of character last night for this team. That's the main thing. You can definitely sleep a little bit better, but at the same time, you have to come to the field the next day and get your work done."

Lester is already looking forward to getting back out there for his next start, which takes place on Saturday at Fenway against the Rangers.

"These next four days will go by real slow," said Lester. "Hopefully, I'll go forward next time instead of backwards again."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.