Off night: Lester chased in loss to Nationals

Cubs lefty sees ERA rise from 1.16 to 2.09 after 4 1/3-inning start

May 19th, 2019

WASHINGTON -- The two simple sentences that Cubs manager Joe Maddon used to describe the performance of normally steady starter on Saturday night truly summarized what the left-hander went through against the Nationals in a 5-2 loss at Nationals Park -- a game that the Cubs played under protest.

“Jonny was off,” Maddon said. “[He] was just off.”

Lester had allowed only eight runs (five earned) in his first seven starts and boasted a sparkling 1.16 ERA. Those numbers did not seem to bother Washington, which tagged Lester for five earned runs in 4 1/3 innings.

Lester (3-2) gave up at least one run in three of the innings he pitched and retired the Nationals in order just once. He needed 98 pitches to get through his outing, while Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg (4-3) went eight innings and gave up two runs (one earned) on four hits while striking out seven and throwing 93 pitches.

The Cubs scored their runs on a passed ball in the fifth and 's fourth homer of the season in the sixth.

Lester was puzzled as to why he ran into so much trouble, since he said he felt fine beforehand.

“I felt good physically, almost too good,” he said. “Just couldn’t repeat my mechanics, couldn’t repeat pitches. I’d make a good one and then three bad ones. For the most part, I found too many barrels. It just wasn’t a good night all around.”

In the first inning, he gave up back-to-back one-out singles before escaping the jam. The second inning saw Brian Dozier lead off with a homer, and Lester surrendered three runs in the third while allowing a walk and five hits -- including back-to-back doubles from Howie Kendrick and Juan Soto to give the Nats a 4-0 lead.

Soto then added an RBI single in the fifth that ended Lester’s night.

“The finish on his pitches wasn’t the same that we’ve been seeing,” Maddon said. “His cutter’s been really good, to the point where he’s had a lot of bad takes and a lot of bad swings against it -- not as much tonight. I would just say the cutter wasn’t the same pitch as it’s been more recently.”

This was the first time this season that Lester gave up more than two runs in a game, and his ERA jumped from 1.16 to 2.09. The Nationals also got to Lester the last time he faced them, on Aug. 11, 2018, when the left-hander gave up nine runs (eight earned) on 10 hits in 3 2/3 innings in a 9-4 loss.

Lester had been 13-2 with a 2.69 ERA in 18 road starts dating back to the start of the 2018 season before this game. Plus, he had allowed only one earned run in his last five starts.

The veteran said that the Nationals’ patience at the plate, especially early on, made a difference. That, along with the fact that he fell behind in the count several times, did not help his cause.

“They made me work, fouled off a lot of balls early,” Lester said. “Long at-bats early, which is partly my fault -- just throwing ball one, ball two -- and that’s the way it goes sometimes. A loss is a loss. It’s never easy. It sucks to lose, no matter how many times you do it.”