Less than 2 weeks post-surgery, Lester makes Nationals debut

·3 min read

Jon Lester was back on a mound Thursday, wearing a Washington Nationals uniform while facing opposing batters for the first time in spring training and striking out a couple during his two innings, less than two weeks after surgery to remove a parathyroid gland.

“Baseball, for me, is an escape. I come to the field, I’ve got stuff I need to do. I forget about this,” Lester said, pointing the scar on the front of his throat, after Washington's 3-1 exhibition victory against the New York Mets at Port St. Lucia, Florida.

"So you dive into that routine," the 37-year-old left-hander said.

Wearing a red Nationals No. 34 uniform, Bryce Harper's old number, along with a green hat the day after St. Patrick's Day, Lester allowed one run and one hit while throwing 31 pitches, 21 for strikes.

He went to 0-2 counts on each of the first three Mets hitters, getting the first two out before walking J.D. Davis and giving up a first-pitch RBI double to James McCann. Then Lester pitched a 1-2-3 second inning, and that was that.

His operation was March 5 for hyperparathyroidism, which can affect the amount of calcium levels in the bloodstream and lead to someone tiring easily.

Lester said he had a hard time sleeping Wednesday night.

“Regardless of the surgery, there was still excitement leading up to this day. New team. ... I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t nervous," said Lester, who signed as a free agent with Washington for one year and $5 million after six seasons and one World Series title with the Chicago Cubs. “I had the butterflies, which is always good."

Another important takeaway: Lester thinks he'll “be in a good position” to be ready when the regular season begins April 1.

Manager Dave Martinez agreed, figuring Lester should be up to about 75 pitches after three more exhibition tarts.

“We’ll see how he gets up tomorrow,” Martinez said. “But I think he’s on the right track.”

Lester took it as a good sign that his changeup worked well. That's usually the last pitch that gets into gear.

“It’s definitely been a point of emphasis, as far as in my bullpens and just really playing catch with it,” Lester said. “So it was nice to see the results, the couple swing and misses, out in front, and got maybe a couple foul balls on it.”

Notes: Stephen Strasburg will test his strained left calf in a simulated game against teammates Friday instead of facing Houston that night. The 2019 World Series MVP left his second spring start in the third inning Sunday. “Obviously, if something tightens up on him, we'll shut him down right away,” Martinez said. ... Kyle Schwarber, Josh Bell and Yadiel Hernández homered against the Mets. ... Reliever Tanner Rainey, recovering from a muscle issue near his collarbone, threw 22 pitches in a simulated game; starters Joe Ross (73 pitches) and Erick Fedde (67) also pitched.

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Howard Fendrich, The Associated Press