Lester driven to 'bring another ring' to Nats

January 28th, 2021

Fifteen Major League seasons, five All-Star selections and three World Series championships later, still has something to prove this year with the Nationals.

“Win -- that’s never wavered for me,” Lester said on a Wednesday Zoom call after the 37-year-old left-hander’s one-year deal with the club was officially announced. “From Day 1, even in the Minor Leagues, until I signed with the Cubs to now being here with the Nationals, I want to win. I still have the drive to win. I want to bring another ring to D.C., and hopefully we can do that.”

Lester is the latest player who previously competed with Nationals manager Dave Martinez on the Cubs to become part of the Nationals, joining corner outfielder Kyle Schwarber, second baseman Starlin Castro, catcher Welington Castillo and members of the coaching staff, including pitching coach Jim Hickey. While Lester was weighing his free-agent options, he spoke to Martinez and dropped Schwarber a message saying, “I’d still love to be your teammate.”

“I think that’s what kind of helped the fit,” Lester said. “I think that’s what helped the decision process maybe go a little bit smoother, is having those guys. … I know these guys, and they know me. So they know what to expect of me, and I know what to expect of them. That makes that whole kind of guessing thing early on a lot easier. That definitely helped the process; that communication was a huge part of it.”

Lester will join a veteran rotation led by Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, a trio that helped Washington capture its first World Series championship in 2019. The Nationals had to determine the Nos. 4 and 5 spots for 2021, after Aníbal Sánchez became a free agent this offseason and Austin Voth struggled last year in his first season as a full-time starter. Joe Ross, who was the top candidate for the No. 5 spot in '20 before electing not to play, is likely to round out the rotation. Lester and Corbin give the Nats a pair of lefties.

“It's going to be nice to just kind of sit back and watch these guys work,” Lester said. “I'm just excited to dig into their minds and see how they prepare, and really [I’ll] just stay out of the way. I want to be kind of a fly on the wall with this rotation and just try to help out as best I can."

Lester has established himself as one of the Majors’ most impactful southpaw starters. The Washington state native earned World Series titles with the Red Sox (in 2007 and '13) and the Cubs ('16), while also capturing the ’16 National League Championship Series MVP Award. He tossed a no-hitter during the ‘08 season for Boston.

Lester has pitched the past six seasons for Chicago, finishing his memorable Cubs tenure with a 77-44 record, a 3.64 ERA and three crucial victories during the North Siders’ curse-breaking run in 2016.

The 2020 season saw Lester post a career-worst 5.16 ERA across 12 starts, including a career-worst 6.2 strikeouts and 1.6 home runs allowed per nine innings. But Lester also owns a sterling postseason resume, boasting a career 2.51 ERA in October. He’s also been durable, making at least 30 starts in every full season since ‘08. This season, Lester is likely to approach the 200-wins milestone. He currently ranks fourth among active pitchers with 193 victories.

“I've actually thrown a few more 'pens than I have in the past, to this point,” Lester said. “Usually I kind of wait until the week before Spring Training to get on the mound. But there are some things that popped up last year that I needed to work on, I needed to fix, so I got on there a little bit sooner. I'm excited about that. I feel like I'm in a good place physically on the mound.”

In addition to getting to know his new organization, Lester is eager to get to know the community. His NVRQT program benefits the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation, and he has been very active in reaching out and giving back to fans over the years.

“You look at a place like D.C. with all the hospitals and technology and everything that’s there, the world’s at your fingertips,” he said. “I [also] love to get involved with other guys’ foundations. … I think there’s a million different ways. I think once we kind of get going and we kind of figure out where we’re at as a community with this COVID stuff and kind of figure out what we can and can’t do, it’s definitely something that we’ll dive into and try to make an impact.”