Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Boston Red Sox [Print without images]

Sunday, April 29, 2012
Valentine: Jon Lester 'pitched like an ace'

By Sahadev Sharma

CHICAGO -- Prior to Saturday night’s 1-0 victory over the Chicago White Sox, Boston Red Sox starter Jon Lester asked his manager what he needed from him.

“Pitch like an ace, like Jon Lester is,” Bobby Valentine said he told Lester. “And he pitched like an ace. He had both sides of the plate, (he was) very competitive, he was terrific.”

Jon Lester
Jon Lester picked up his first win of 2012 on Saturday.
Lester threw seven shutout innings, striking out seven and walking only one as he dominated an anemic White Sox offense and led Boston to its sixth consecutive victory. It was Lester’s first victory since Sept. 6 last season over the Toronto Blue Jays.

However, Lester said he was unaware of his long winless streak, adding that it was never really a concern of his.

His counterpart on the mound, Jake Peavy, was nearly Lester’s equal on the day. Peavy went nine innings and was almost flawless. However, almost flawless wasn’t enough as the Red Sox managed to scrape across the lone run of the game when Adrian Gonzalez singled in Ryan Sweeney in the fourth inning. Lester said he relishes his opportunities to go toe-to-toe with the best pitchers in the game.

“Any win is satisfying, but those games are fun, it’s just a battle,” Lester said. “I’ve been on the other end of those and you feel like you do everything you can to put your team in a position to win, but the other guy just does a little bit more. That was big tonight, grinding it out.”

Lester wasn’t the only story of the night. The much-maligned Boston bullpen continued its strong performance of late with two shutout innings. During the Red Sox's six-game winning streak the 'pen has allowed only one run in 15 2/3 innings of work.

“I don’t think anybody in this clubhouse was too worried about (the bullpen),” Lester said. “This game, sometimes it takes you a little bit to feel comfortable, get confidence and get in that rhythm. Everybody is kind of different, so it’s just nice that those guys are kind of fitting in down there and doing good.”

The biggest turnaround may be from closer Alfredo Aceves, who struggled in the season’s first series in Detroit when he was on the mound for two walk-off victories for the Tigers. Aceves seemingly hit rock bottom when he took the loss in a 15-9 defeat to the New York Yankees, a game the Red Sox once led 9-0.

Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said mechanics were an issue for Aceves early on in the season, pointing out that he was lowering his arm slot and losing location on his pitches. Aceves has since corrected the problem, and the results have been clear as he hasn’t allowed a run in his last three save opportunities.

“I think he’s always had that arm; in the closer role you get amped up and can use a little extra,” Saltalamacchia said of Aceves, who was pumping in 97 mph heat on Saturday. “Tonight was the best I’ve seen him, lights out and just hitting his spots. I think he’s definitely getting more comfortable. I think the more times he goes out and gets in that situation and has success, the more confidence he builds. Tonight it showed.”

Valentine has been thrilled of late with his bullpen and his starters, who have delivered quality starts in four of their last five outings. All of it culminated in Lester’s brilliant performance on Saturday night.

“That’s how you start building a real foundation of the team,” Valentine said. “Those other little things are just parts of the team, the foundation is what the starters can do day in and day out. They’re pretty good, I’ll take those five that we’re running out there right now.”

Valentine admitted that he’s still learning the ins and outs of the players on his team. The first 14 games he witnessed were undoubtedly not what he had hoped to see. However, as the team hopefully has turned a corner, Valentine is starting to get more comfortable in his new digs and is finally enjoying what his team is doing on the field.