Takeaways: Lester, Lee lock horns in duel

March, 16, 2014
Mar 16
12:07
AM ET
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Takeaways from the Fort, where a couple of 30-something lefties were locked in a pitching duel worthy of a midseason interleague game, Burke Badenhop was most definitely not locked in and Will Middlebrooks talked about being locked in.

[+] EnlargeLester
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsJon Lester gave up one run in four innings against the Phillies.
The result: The Red Sox were beaten by the struggling Phillies 4-1 and fell to 7-9-1 in front of a sellout crowd of 9,726 at JetBlue Park. The Phillies came into the game with a 4-11-2 record and a baseball-worst .212 batting average (20 points lower than the second-worst team, the Red Sox), and astoundingly had been held to one or fewer runs in six games. But once Red Sox starter Jon Lester left the game after having given up just one run in four innings, they went to work. The Red Sox got on the board in the seventh when Jonny Gomes launched a 0-1 pitch from Phillippe Aumont over the Green Monster for his first homer of the spring.

Locking horns: Phillies lefty Cliff Lee is a famously quick worker. For Lester, getting locked into this duel wasn't such a bad thing.

"You find yourself sometimes trying to match his rhythm and tempo, and it's one of those deals [where] he's special because of that," Lester said. "I don't think anybody can replicate that. It's his style, and it's worked for him for a long time. But you have to sometimes go out there and go, 'Slow down. You don't have to be Cliff Lee and go that fast.' But at the same time, it helps you speed up, too. It's fun to watch a guy like that, especially how well he throws strikes."

In his second start of the spring, Lester was almost as good as in the first. He threw strikes on 44 of his 68 pitches, giving up just two hits -- a single to Ben Revere to lead off the game and a run-scoring double to Marlon Byrd two batters later.

"That first inning kind of killed me," he said. "I would've liked to have gone into the fifth and saved some pitches there, but all in all, the biggest thing is getting up and down, getting to your pitch count and staying healthy. Those are our goals in spring training. And just keep working on fastball command, and the other pitches off of that will take care of themselves."

Lester said he feels a lot better this spring because he's not immersed in mechanics, as he was last spring. Everything is more natural.

"You're not going out there every pitch, analyzing mechanics: 'Why did I throw that ball downhill? Why did I miss?'" he said. "It's just more of getting back to being a pitcher and focusing on getting the hitter out, whoever that may be. When you're able to do that, your mind is on the right thing. You're not sitting out there, worrying about your leg kick and worrying where your hands are.

"This is obviously a different point for me than last year. My bullpen work has been a lot more crisp and I've gotten a lot more out of it. This year in games I'm working on commanding the baseball, as opposed to a bunch of other things going through your head."

Manager John Farrell said Lester continues to "show good power through the strike zone."

Bad day for Badenhop: The pitching duel was doused when Badenhop entered in the fifth with the Phillies leading 1-0. Cesar Hernandez hit a one-out single, went to third on a single by Wil Nieves and scored on a double by Revere. Jimmy Rollins drove in Nieves on a groundout and Byrd followed with a run-scoring single.

Badenhop had previously pitched three scoreless innings in three appearances.

[+] EnlargeDustin Pedroia
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsDustin Pedroia's influence has helped Will Middlebrooks improve his approach.
The power of Pedey: Middlebrooks looks like a different player this spring. After an injury-plagued season in which he hit .227 and spent time at Triple-A Pawtucket, he's hitting .320 with two home runs and five RBI in nine games.

"I'm not getting tricked up there," he said. "I'm seeing every pitch. I'm not guessing. I'm letting my eyes and hands work together."

He said he's not going to divulge everything about his approach, but he is doing a better job of recognizing his strengths and weaknesses.

"Let's say a guy has a good sinker," he said. "He's going to throw that sinker, and a lot of times it's going to be for effect. It's not going to be a strike. It's going to look like a strike and end up being off the plate. You try to eliminate that. Same with a guy who's got a good cutter. He's not going to throw many for strikes. They're for swing-and-misses. It's an 'out' pitch. Knowing a guy's 'out' pitch -- how he gets guys out -- and just laying off it."

He said he was overaggressive last year-not necessarily trying to hit home runs, but trying to hit the ball hard.

"There wasn't much thought process that went into my approach," he said. "I don't think I was consistent with my approach. It was more or less going up trying to hit the ball hard. And you can't do that at this level. You have to have a plan, because the pitchers have a plan.

"I learned a lot more last year than I did in my first year when I hit .290. That's just part of growing as a player. I talked to Pedey [Dustin Pedroia], all these guys in here. They said, 'We've all been through it. We've all struggled. At this level, that's going to happen at one point or another.' There's a slight few guys it never happens to, and those guys you see on a plaque in Cooperstown. But even those guys, look at David [Ortiz]. As great as he is, he's had months where he didn't do well. It's just part of the game. Those pitchers are out there for a reason. You just try to stay as consistent as you can."

He credits Pedroia for sharpening his approach in offseason conversations.

"All of you guys know how confident he is," he said of the second baseman, who's listed generously at 5-foot-8. "He's 5-foot-1, and he's the most confident guy in here. You can trick yourself. You really can. It's such a mental game. As much as it is physical, it is a mental game. You may have only 70 percent to give out there, but I feel like you can trick yourself on a daily basis. Getting yourself ready to play, getting in the right state of mind, because you're not always going to feel good. He knows how to get himself ready for the game every day.

"That guy works harder than anyone I've ever been around. He's here at 3:30 every morning watching video. Is he nuts? Maybe a little. But he's great for us and he's great for this team and this organization."

Going deep: Farrell, asked if the team's home-run surge (18, second-best in baseball going into the game) was due to hitters getting the green light or some other factor, quipped, "We don't have a home-run sign. They're going up to put their best swing, their 'A' swing, on pitches they have in the strike zone, and some have traveled out of the ballpark."

Nothing more than caution: The Red Sox have been cautious with pitcher Craig Breslow in the wake of his increased workload last season. Although he still has not made an appearance, Farrell said he is in good position.

"He had a very good bullpen yesterday," Farrell said. "We're anticipating he'll see hitters by the second half of this week and soon to be in a game."

Breslow didn't pitch in spring training last year due to shoulder inflammation, but had a 1.81 ERA in 61 appearances.

JBJ report: Jackie Bradley Jr. was given the night off as Grady Sizemore started in center field. Bradley is hitting . 167 in 30 at-bats, with a double, triple and four RBI.

Sizemore played eight innings and went 1-for-4. Farrell said he had no issues with his knees, "got down the line with good energy" and took "another positive step."

Farrell said the goal ultimately is to spend less time worrying about his physical well-being and more about evaluating his skills, but they're not there yet.

"I don't know that we completely separate the two at this point, given what he's come through," he said. "I think each day he walks onto the field, he's answering the physical side of it. Given all he's come through, we have to continue to monitor that as we go forward-much like we would monitor any other physical issue with another guy."

X file: Xander Bogaerts was 0-for-3 with a strikeout and is now hitting .130 in 23 at-bats, but Farrell believes he's headed for a big year.

"The beauty of it is he hasn't taken anything for granted," Farrell said. "Just by reading his comments, he's hopeful to make the team. Well, damn, so am I. But you know what? The work he's done with Butter [infield coach Brian Butterfield] ... we feel very comfortable with him at shortstop. He has a chance to be an outstanding one."

The dot, dot, dots: Allen Webster starts for the Red Sox in Sunday's 1:05 p.m. game against the Rays in Port Charlotte. Also scheduled to pitch for the Red Sox: Drake Britton, Rich Hill, Francisco Cordero and Brayan Villareal. David Price starts for the Rays. ... John Lackey goes against the Cardinals in Monday's 1:05 p.m. game at JetBlue Park (televised on ESPN), backed by Edward Mujica, Junichi Tazawa, Koji Uehara and Andrew Miller. Shelby Miller starts for the Cardinals.

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