ST. PETERSBURG -- Jon Lester says there's nothing physically wrong, but the Cubs left-hander wasn't sharp on Wednesday night and no one had an explanation for it.
Lester scattered eight hits over 4 1/3 innings in the Cubs' 8-1 loss to the Rays, did not strike out a batter and walked three. It was his fourth start since coming off the disabled list due to fatigue in his left shoulder. This was not a recurrence of that problem, Lester said.
"I think today was just a lack of command all the way around, with everything," Lester said. "I felt like I had a really good sinker in the bullpen and a good changeup and just couldn't command them. When I did, I got a lot of ground balls and some were hit at guys and some weren't. I'll take more movement than being flat, but at the same time, the other stuff didn't work."
Cubs manager Joe Maddon was puzzled.
"It was very unfamiliar stuff-wise, command-wise, just an unfamiliar night from Jon," Maddon said. "I don't have any reason to give you other than he had a tough night and I don't know why. He just looked different from the side. We're used to seeing sharp, cornered pitches and a little bit better velocity, and it just wasn't there."
The velocity was definitely down, but Lester repeated afterward that he felt fine. Maddon kept an eye on the lefty to make sure he wasn't trying to hide any discomfort, and he didn't see any signs of a problem.
"Since he's come back, he's had some wins, but none of them have been Jon Lester sharp," Maddon said. "The last two, he's gotten better more deeply in the game. It just hasn't been that sharp from the first inning. He's not complaining about anything, he's not saying anything is wrong."
Lester has two starts remaining in the regular season and feels there is enough time to get back on track.
"I'm not worried about it," he said. "I've had really good seasons, I've had good seasons and I've had bad ones. When you pitch a long time and play this game a long time, you're going to have ups and downs. ... We'll make an adjustment and figure it out. The good thing is it's not physical. I have to get back to what was working for me in the past and make adjustments."
Lester was 3-0 in three starts since coming off the disabled list but his numbers weren't that impressive. Teams were hitting .292 against him in that stretch. Among the hits off him Wednesday was Steven Souza Jr.'s solo home run in the first, the eighth homer Lester has served up in the opening inning. That's tied for the most in the National League.
"There is some concern," Maddon said. "I'm OK with the lesser [velocity] numbers; it's about the command. He's so good about throwing a strike when he wants to. He's the kind of guy who will pitch off the edges when he wants and over the plate when he wants to. The ball out of his hand is not where he wants it to be all the time. I don't have a great explanation."
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.