Jon Lester leaves no-no with strain

Updated: July 6, 2011, 10:49 AM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Boston Red Sox ace Jon Lester suffered a lower lat muscle strain after four no-hit innings against the Toronto Blue Jays Tuesday night at Fenway Park and will be re-evaluated Wednesday morning.

After Boston's 3-2 victory over the Blue Jays, Red Sox manager Terry Francona said Lester would be examined "extensively" on Wednesday.

Depending on the severity of the injury, typically a lat strain could sideline a pitcher for 2-4 weeks, according to a team source.

"It was sore. It hurt," Lester said. "I would never take myself out of the game if it wasn't for something significant. We'll get it looked at tomorrow and see how I feel. Hopefully we've got the All-Star break worked in and hopefully we don't have to do anything drastic around here."

He said he has never had a lat issue in the past, but Francona said Lester has had experience with cramping during hot and humid conditions. Either way, Lester did not seem to be worried.

"I don't imagine this being a long-term deal," he said. "We'll re-evaluate everything tomorrow, but hopefully it was more of a precautionary-type deal, just a fluke thing and we'll move on."

"It's going to be sore tomorrow and it's going to be sore the next day," Lester said. "We just have to take action of getting it better every day. It's not something I'm worried about long term. It should be fine for the rest of the season."

Lester, who is 10-4 with a 3.31 ERA this season, explained that he didn't suffer the injury on one particular pitch. He felt the discomfort during the entire fourth inning.

"It just built up," he said.

Between innings, Lester was talking with team trainer Mike Reinold and the pair was trying to figure out a way for the southpaw to return to the mound in the fifth inning, but it didn't take long before the decision was made to end the outing.

"Him and Tito always have our best interest (in mind), so there's no point of going out there and pushing it right now," Lester said. "It's going to be sore tomorrow, but I think if I would have gone out there in the fifth I could have possibly done some worse damage."

"It felt like it was cramping on him and there's no way we were going to let him pitch," Francona said. "It was pretty obvious he felt good on the mound with the way he was throwing the ball. We'll get him checked out tomorrow and get more information."

The Red Sox's rotation is already missing righty Daisuke Matsuzaka due to recent Tommy John surgery, right-hander Clay Buchholz will be examined by a back specialist Wednesday morning in North Carolina and right-hander John Lackey, who spent time on the disabled list with an elbow strain, continues to be a major question mark.

If this setback to Lester is longer than expected, it could really hurt the Red Sox.

"It's never a good time," Lester said. "I don't care what the state of our rotation is in, it's never a good time to get hurt. Every game is important and the more starts you make as a whole unit, the better off we'll be. We've had some setbacks, but I don't think (the injury) is going to be an issue."

Prior to his exit, Lester was throwing the ball extremely well. He retired 12 of the 13 batters he faced and allowed only one walk with five strikeouts. He only threw 50 pitches, 35 for strikes.

"I thought I threw the ball pretty well," he said. "It was probably the best fastball location and just pure stuff I've had in a while. It's a shame I had to waste it tonight."

With Lester out of the game, the bullpen needed to step up in a big way, especially given the fact that the Red Sox used a total of five pitchers in Monday's 9-7 loss to the Blue Jays after Lackey lasted only 2 1/3 innings.

In Tuesday's victory, right-handed reliever Matt Albers replaced Lester and worked two scoreless innings, allowing only one hit with two walks and two strikeouts. He's tossed more than one inning 10 times this season, including a season-high two innings seven times.

Red Sox lefty Franklin Morales followed and worked a perfect seventh inning, while Daniel Bard allowed only one hit in the eighth to improve his scoreless streak to 16 1/3 innings in his last 15 outings.

Closer Jonathan Papelbon yielded Toronto's two runs when he surrendered a two-run homer to the Blue Jays' Jose Bautista in the top of the ninth inning. Despite earning his 18th save of the season, Papelbon almost blew it.

With the Red Sox clinging to a 3-2 lead with two outs and runners on first and second, the Blue Jays' John McDonald dropped a soft single into left field, but Darnell McDonald made a perfect throw to the plate to cut down Edwin Encarnacion, attempting to score the tying run. The throw arrived before the runner and catcher Jason Varitek did a good job blocking the plate, though upon further review it appeared Encarnacion might have been safe.

Lester was grateful for his teammate's efforts.

"You can't speak highly enough about our bullpen. They picked me up tonight. They picked the team up, especially after a rough one (Monday). I needed to eat some innings up and unfortunately I wasn't able to do that. Albers, Morales, Bard and Pap -- you tip your hat to those guys because they did a good job."

While Lester did not seem concerned with the situation, his teammates know the club's success depends greatly on the left-hander's health.

"He'll be fine. He just pulled a muscle," Red Sox slugger David Ortiz said. "We still have to be careful, but, yeah, no doubt about it we need Lester in our rotation to be successful."

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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