Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Takeaways: Lester closes lights-out spring
By Rick Weber, Special to ESPNBoston.com
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Takeaways from the Fort, where savvy ticket buyers had seats in the sun on a wind-whipped day that started with a record-low temperature, and the others wished they had studied the sun/shade patterns at JetBlue Park before buying their seats:
Jon Lester has been lights-out this spring, and he continued his domination with four scoreless innings in a 5-1 loss to the Marlins.
But his rebirth actually started after the All-Star break last season, when he studied film and discovered his problem was entirely mechanical: He wasn’t staying tall.
“I mean, it sounds simple,” he said after giving up just two hits and throwing 38 strikes in 50 pitches. “It really does. It sounds easy. For whatever reason, it kind of morphed through 2011 and into 2012, and I fell into some bad habits and couldn’t really dig myself out of them until the middle of last year.
Jon Lester says the key to his turnaround is standing up tall.
“I felt like we made a lot of adjustments, and that was kind of the beginning to this year. It was right after the All-Star break. We finally overhauled everything and got back to being me, using my frame. I was pitching like a guy that was 5-10 instead of 6-4. It makes a big difference in the way the ball comes in the zone.”
Lester said the mechanical issue was so obvious that anyone -- even a person with no knowledge of baseball -- could have discerned the problem by watching side-by-side video of vintage Lester and the one who was struggling.
In his final 13 starts of 2012, Lester had a 3.92 ERA, and he allowed three or fewer runs in nine of his final starts beginning Aug. 2. This spring, he has the lowest ERA (0.75) in baseball and has allowed just eight hits in 24 innings.
“Like I said after each one, it’s good to have good results,” he said. “It reinforces all the work you put into it and the adjustments. You see the swings at certain pitches, and it’s like, ‘Man, this is me.’ With that being said, there’s still going to be times where you get waffled. That’s just part of being a pitcher. But I think those times will be few and far between.”
Lester had a pretty good idea throughout camp that he would be the Opening Day starter, and it was sealed in his mind when manager John Farrell asked him to be at JetBlue earlier than normal Wednesday. They met, and Farrell told him he’ll get the ball Monday at Yankee Stadium.
“All the words -- honor, privilege, all that -- especially for this organization, to be named that, I take it with great pride,” he said. “Go out there, give it a good start and hopefully get this team off to a good start this season.
“The hardest part about Opening Day, I would say, is just all the hoopla, all the stuff leading up to the first pitch, because once the first pitch is there, it’s the same game. I think that goes back to guys’ first start in the playoffs, first start in the World Series. It’s just a lot of stuff that builds up to that first pitch. Once you get out there and the quicker you realize, ‘OK, this is just like five days ago in Fort Myers, only it means something,’ the easier it is to get through that.”
Oh, yeah, and it’s against the Yankees. In Yankee Stadium.
“New York ... Yankees and Red Sox,” he said. “There will be a bunch of stuff going on. You just have to block it out and try to stay on your routine. That’s why those routines are so important leading up to the game.”
Will Daniel Bard be in Yankee Stadium on Opening Day? Farrell’s comments would appear to be a worse sign than Bard’s rocky outing Wednesday in which he gave up three hits and three runs while walking one in his only inning of work.
Farrell said the decision might be dictated as much by “roster management” as a simple evaluation of Bard. Given that Bard has options and Clayton Mortensen doesn’t, that might not be good news for Bard.
“There’s some things to consider,” Farrell said. “Certainly part of it is where he’s at now in this adjustment phase he’s going through. I think it’s important for Daniel to keep in mind and for us to keep in mind that while there’s been inconsistency in spring training, when you compare it to last year, there’s marked improvement.”
Bard downplayed the decision.
“Completely out of my control,” he said. “I can’t help that I didn’t burn any options my first couple of years. It’s just part of the game, something you’ve got to live with.”
Bard agreed with Farrell, saying he thinks he has proved he has gotten past last year’s struggles and has exhibited mechanics that are “pretty close to being locked in where I want them to be.”
“You could put my outing today up against something from 2010, and it’d be hard to find anything different,” he said. “I was never Greg Maddux. I was never a pinpoint-control guy. I’m kind of done trying to get back to that.”
Bard entered the game in the seventh and gave up a first-pitch single to Austin Kearns on a 94 mph fastball, then had an 0-2 count on Chris Valaika, ran the count to 3-2 and gave up a bloop single on a 95 mph fastball. After retiring Casey Kotchman, he gave up a line-drive sacrifice fly to left by Koyie Hill, walked Wilson Valdez and gave up a two-run double to Daniel Pertusati on a 94 mph fastball.
After missing with a slider to Chris Coghlan, Bard was visited on the mound by pitching coach Juan Nieves. Bard then topped out at 96 mph with his next two pitches, missing with a fastball and then getting Coghlan to foul off a fastball before retiring him with a 93 mph fastball on a grounder to first.
The final roster could be announced Thursday. Jackie Bradley Jr. said he has no idea whether his name will be on it.
“They’re pretty good at keeping secrets, I’ll tell you,” he said.
Bradley, who was 1-for-4 with a walk and saw his average fall 13 points to .431, said he’s not losing any sleep over roster machinations.
“I was just excited to be able to go to big league camp,” he said. “Then all this came about. It’s been a good run. I’m just enjoying it and trying to improve every single day. Patience is a key virtue. We’ll see what happens.”
Asked whether he will keep No. 74 if he makes the team, he said, “No, because then umpires are going to give me not-so-good calls.”
He said his go-to number is 19, but there’s a problem there: Koji Uehara already has it.
Mike Carp, who’s competing with Daniel Nava for a spot as backup first baseman/outfielder, started in left field and went 0-for-3.
Carp has not had a scintillating spring. He’s now hitting .195 with 13 strikeouts (second on the team behind Jarrod Saltalamacchia) in 44 plate appearances.
“You still see very good bat speed,” Farrell said. “We’ve gotten some feel for him. We also recognize that here’s a guy that’s changed camps at the outset of spring training. He didn’t have any of those first seven to 10 days before the games began. So we’re getting a better sense of that.”
Nava started in right field and was 1-for-2 with three walks, raising his average to .318.