Jon Lester has pitched in five postseason games, three of them starts. His numbers:
2 earned runs
.498 opposing OPS
Boston manager Terry Francona talked about how cautiously they used Lester in 2007 after his cancer treatments. Lester didn’t pitch in any games in spring training then was assigned to their low Single-A team to start the year. He made 18 starts in the minors that season and pitched in only 12 games in the majors.
But when the time came, he won the clinching game of the World Series.
“I think if they had let me go without restrictions I would have got hurt,” Lester said.
Obviously beating lymphoma is different than a fractured rib or rotator cuff tendinitis. But the theory holds true: You can’t take a pitcher in his early 20s who has had health issues and just throw him out there. Lester threw 127.2 innings in 2006. He got to 163 in 2007 and this year is at 224.3. Gradual progression is what works.
This is why you can’t criticize the Yankees for being as cautious as they have been with Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes and why it would be insanity to just make Joba a starter and run him out there 33 times next season. The single most precious commodity in baseball are young, talented starters and you have to protect them.
Hopefully for their sakes, the blog entry on Oct. 12, 2009 is about Joba or Phil getting ready for a big postseason start. Those guys are every bit as talented as Lester. It’s just a matter now of staying healthy and showing people what they can do.