Lester, the 37-year-old veteran left-hander signed over the winter following long and memorable stints with the Red Sox and Cubs, is expected to return to the club in about a week and should be cleared to pitch immediately, provided Friday’s scheduled surgery goes smoothly.
“If everything goes well, he’ll be back (and) hopefully he can pitch again in about a week,” Martinez said during his morning Zoom session with reporters prior to today’s game against the Marlins. “We want him to get it taken care of now, so it’s not an issue. So he’s going to get it taken care of.”
Lester notably was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2006, underwent chemotherapy and returned to pitch in July 2007 and help lead the Red Sox to a World Series title (the first of three he has won with Boston and Chicago). By all accounts, he has been healthy since and has become a leading supporter of cancer research, especially in children.
Signed to a one-year, $5 million contract over the winter, he reported to Nationals spring training on time and has been building himself up to open the season as the club’s No. 4 starter. He was scheduled to make his spring training debut Thursday against the Mets in a nationally televised game.
Lester, though, reported to coaches and medical staff he had been feeling tired. He underwent unspecified tests in recent days, according to Martinez, and on Tuesday it was determined he should have his thyroid gland removed.
“We’ve known he’s had it,” the manager said. “We were waiting for some other results to come through. Talked to the doctor yesterday, and he wants to go ahead and have it removed, which we all agree was a good thing for him. He’ll feel better with that gone. And then we’ll go from there.”
Thyroid removal surgery, officially known as thyroidectomy, is a fairly common procedure that can be done in response to one of several potential disorders, including cancer, noncancerous enlargement of the thyroid and an overactive thyroid, according to the Mayo Clinic. Located at the base of the neck, the butterfly-shaped gland produces hormones that control every aspect of metabolism.
If doctors remove the entire thyroid gland, patients must then take daily hormone replacement drugs for the rest of their lives. Otherwise, there typically aren’t any other significant side effects of the surgery.
Though the Nationals won’t have a firm timetable for Lester’s return until the surgery is completed, Martinez suggested he should be able to return to Florida and even pitch in about a week. If all goes well, he would likely be able to make four exhibition starts in advance of opening day.
“Hopefully, this won’t affect him moving forward,” Martinez said. “We still have plans, as of right now, that he will start the season with us on his scheduled day. But we’ll have to see after this procedure’s done how he’s feeling.”
Given Lester’s medical history, this development likely was met with more concern than might normally be the case for others. But the Nationals are indicating at this point they are confidant the issue will be addressed and there will be no significant long-term effects of it.
“I definitely believe in talking to him that it’s something that for his mind’s sake we needed to take care of right away,” Martinez said. “I think he’s upbeat about it. I know he’s upbeat about it. So as soon as we can take care of that, all he wants to do is come back and help us win and get back on the mound. So we’re all for it. Hopefully, like I said, we get this thing taken care of, he comes back and he’s good to go.”