Jon Lester has given the Boston Red Sox a pair of quality starts this season with nothing to show for it.
Continuing his mastery of the New York Yankees could finally get him in the win column Friday night when the AL East’s fiercest rivals play the second of a four-game set at Yankee Stadium.
Lester (0-2, 2.51 ERA) took the hill for the Red Sox (4-6) in their season opener March 31, giving up only two runs over seven solid innings with eight strikeouts, but Orioles relievers allowed just two hits through the final four frames of Baltimore’s 2-1 victory.
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The left-hander was also strong during his second start Sunday, allowing four runs – two earned – in 7 1-3 innings with six strikeouts in a 4-0 loss to Milwaukee that closed a three-game sweep by the Brewers at Fenway Park.
"I can’t really talk about our hitters," Lester said after that loss. "I know our hitters are up there grinding out at-bats. The effort is there, and obviously they don’t want to not get any runs on the board. It is what it is. I have to worry about pitching. I have to worry about going out and putting up zeroes."
Boston’s bats came alive following the sweep, totaling 16 runs and 32 hits while taking two of three at Texas. A similar outburst can only benefit Lester, who was 10-0 in 2013 when his team scored at least six runs for him.
The Red Sox, though, went quiet in the opener when the Yankees (5-5) got a solid outing from Michael Pineda, who carried a two-hit shutout into the seventh inning of a 4-1 win.
However, camera shots clearly showed Pineda pitching the first four innings with something on his hand, and there was speculation it was pine tar to help him get a better grip on a chilly night. He was never examined and the substance was gone by the fifth.
Pineda said it was merely dirt, rubbed on his sweaty right hand in-between innings.
"No, I don’t use pine tar. It was dirt," he said.
Lester is 11-5 with a 3.96 ERA over 26 career starts against New York. He has worked eight innings in each of his last two outings versus the Yankees, who haven’t taken him deep since Aug. 18, 2012, and have just 13 homers in 154 2-3 innings against him.
New York will counter with lefty CC Sabathia, who has struggled at times while going 1-1 with a 7.50 ERA. Sabathia’s up-and-down start to the season has been a bit of a surprise after he closed his exhibition slate with 16 consecutive scoreless innings and an overall ERA of 1.29.
Sabathia has a losing record against Boston in his career, going 10-11, but he’s 8-7 with a spotty 5.03 ERA over 20 starts against the Red Sox since joining the Yankees ahead of the 2009 season.
He was a bit erratic in his previous start, giving up four earned runs in six innings while striking out six, but he also retired 17 of 18 Toronto batters during one stretch in New York’s 6-4 win over the Blue Jays on Sunday.
"He was down in the zone, his ball was sinking like it was supposed to, his changeup was good, his slider was good," manager Joe Girardi said. "I was encouraged."
Jacoby Ellsbury had a strong game against his former team in the series opener, driving in a run and scoring another for the Yankees. Dean Anna homered for New York in just his third big league start.