At 37 years old, Lester signed with the Washington Nationals on a one-year deal knowing he'd be joining a loaded rotation of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin that's already a proven winner.
After winning a World Series with the Cubs in 2018 — their first championship in 108 years — Lester, if he only has one bullet left, hopes to fire it into the back of the mitt, with Washington celebrating its second World Series title in three years.
"I think the big thing is just winning. I love to win," Lester said of what still drives him, in an interview with 106.7 The Fan's Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier. "I love to be a part of rotations like this one. I mean, look at this thing. I mean you've got three guys that are studs and I'm excited just to kind of sit in the background and listen to them and see what they do and compete with them."
"I've watched obviously Max, and Stras and Corbin from afar," he said. "I've got to be at a few All-Star Games with Max and kind of be around him and see what makes him tick a little bit. But I'm just excited to do it for 162 and see how these guys compete, and hopefully I can kind of hold up my end of the stick and be a part of that and get some Ws along the way."
There were a number of determining factors, aside from the rotation and the chance to win, driving Lester's decision to join the Nationals. His familiarity with the coaching staff was a plus. Nats skipper Dave Martinez served as the Cubs' bench coach on their World Series run.
"And your GM, [Mike] Rizzo, had a few things to sell me on," he said, "so I was really excited."
"There's a lot of good things here in D.C. that I'm excited about," he said. "One thing I know for sure, having Davey over there is you're not gonna lack in having fun. If you're having fun, you're gonna win ballgames and I think that's an important thing."
"Our relationship is pretty close," Lester said of Martinez. "Ever since he came over, when I was with the Cubs and he came over, man, I think what makes him unique is day in and day out, he brings energy, and that's a hard thing to do in this game. It's such a long, long season, and especially in that position — even as a bench coach, more so as a manager — it's hard to bring that energy every single day to where you can bring your guys up. And he does that, man."
"He's just like an an Energizer bunny, I mean it just keeps going," he said. "And the big thing with that is, when you bring guys' energy up, guys start having fun, which means they're playing relaxed, they're not pressing, they don't think today is the end of the world if they go 0-for-4. You just keep grinding.
"And I think you saw that — [was it] '19 when you guys won the World Series? You guys went and started just kind of creeping, kind of creeping, and all of a sudden you caught fire. And how much fun was going on in that dugout day in and day out, that translates on the field. The pinch-hitters come up – they're loose, they're ready to go. The pitchers are out there just, 'Hey man, I'm letting it all out on the line. I'm gonna do my job.' I think that's what makes Davey unique. He makes the hard decisions when he has to, but otherwise he just lets his boys play and you see the end result."
Entering his 16th season, Lester has witnessed a radical transformation of the game since he made his MLB debut in 2006. Nowadays, the game is inundated with three-true-outcome hitters, with an overwhelming number of at-bats resulting in either a home run, walk or a strikeout. Which has changed Lester's whole approach to pitching.
"You have a lot more deeper counts. Really, your outcomes are three," he said. "It's a walk, a strikeout or a homer, pretty much, so the big thing in this game right now is minimizing walks, right? So if you minimize walks, then that hopefully prevents the two- to three-run homers. Now if you give up singles and then you give up the two- or three-run homer, as a pitcher, you can at least lie your head on the pillow that night and go, 'You know what? They beat me.'"
"The walks are what's gonna kill you in today's game. It just is what it is," he said. "Which then drives the pitch count up, which then allows you not to go the third time through the lineup, which is kind of everybody's skit right now."
"Yeah, it changes your approach," Lester continued. "I think you have to be, there's that fine line of nibbling and then the fine line of attacking on too much of the plate, so you have to really kind of pick your poisons and pick your spots to guys. And that's become harder, because lineups are now, they have more depth and everybody can hit homers now."
"I think it adds for me that competition part, that cat and mouse game of 'my game plan's better than yours' and 'I'm gonna execute better than you.' And, like I said, hopefully at the end of the game, those walks don't hurt ya and they beat you by swinging the bat. I think that's a big thing in today's game. You need to get beat by the other team swinging the bat, which means, hopefully, your guys swung the bat well and you're in the ballgame at the end of the day."