Rest assured, Lester answers call for Nats

Lefty works 5 2/3 strong innings 3 days between starts for 1st time since 2011

June 3rd, 2021

ATLANTA -- When the shorthanded Nationals needed a starter in a pinch, veteran southpaw answered the call.

“I said, ‘Just tell me when I’m pitching. I’ll be there,’” Lester said. “That’s just kind of how I’ve always looked at it.”

Lester took the mound on three days’ rest for only the third time in his 16-year career on Wednesday night against the Braves at Truist Park. He delivered 5 2/3 innings, allowing five hits, one run (a homer to Dansby Swanson) and two walks to go with three strikeouts in the Nats’ 5-3 win. He tossed 53 of his 87 pitches for strikes to help Washington take a 2-1 lead in the series.

Lester owns a 2.44 career ERA vs. the Braves, his third-lowest mark against an opponent with a minimum of 10 appearances.

“He was really good -- really good,” manager Dave Martinez said. “He gave us everything we needed.”

The Nationals found themselves in a bind after their doubleheader against the Brewers on Saturday and without an off-day before the four-game series with the Braves. Lester previously pitched on Saturday night, when he allowed one run on five hits with four strikeouts in four frames.

Lester had not started on three days’ rest since Sept. 28, 2011, as a member of the Red Sox. But he was up for the challenge 10 years later, so much so that he did not want to have any restrictions on his outing.

“That was part of the conversation with Davey,” Lester said. “I said, ‘Hey man, if we’re going to do this, I don’t want to be on a pitch count.’ That was a big thing. Obviously the last start kind of helped be ready for this start … It wasn’t a huge workload day. … I didn’t want to be handcuffed to 70 pitches again and kind of put us behind the eight-ball, where if maybe something happens and that’s only three-plus innings.”

Bullpen usage was on the minds of both Lester and Martinez. When the Nats decided Lester would start on Wednesday, the hope was that Stephen Strasburg would go deep on Tuesday and the relievers could stay fresh should Lester need a bullpen assist. Instead, Strasburg made an early exit after 1 1/3 innings because of a neck strain, and Martinez called on Austin Voth, Sam Clay, Wander Suero, Daniel Hudson, Paolo Espino and Brad Hand out of the ‘pen.

The veterans pitched one day later -- Hudson (1 1/3 innings, one hit, three strikeouts) blew the save opportunity but earned the win, and Hand recorded his ninth save of the season.

“It was impressive,” Hudson said of Lester. “We knew he was going to throw the ball well, and he really did. After us covering almost eight innings last night, him getting into the sixth was huge for us. Hats off for him, and we were all pumped for him down there.”

Though on short rest, Lester was well rested after being able to sleep at his home during this road trip in Atlanta. He lives just five minutes from Truist Park, closer than the team hotel.

Martinez was tempted to joke that Lester’s next start would come on the road this weekend in Philadelphia, prompting a response that shouldn’t come as a surprise.

“I did joke around and tell him, ‘Hey, be ready to pitch Sunday,’’’ Martinez said with a chuckle. “He looked at me and he goes, ‘What?’ Then he started laughing and he said, ‘I’m ready.’”