Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Baseball [Print without images]

Monday, February 17, 2014
Jon Lester wants to stay in Boston

By Rick Weber
Special to ESPNBoston.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- On the first full day of Boston Red Sox spring training, ace Jon Lester reiterated that he would take a hometown discount to stay in Boston rather than test the market after this season, when he becomes eligible for free agency.

"You guys have probably figured me out by now, I would hope. I usually don't say things I don't mean. So I mean it: I want to stay here," Lester said, repeating a stance he took last month. "This is all I've known. I don't like change. I don't like going into new places that I have to learn.

Jon Lester
Jon Lester repeated on Monday in Florida that he would rather give the Red Sox a hometown discount than test the free-agent market after this season.

"If I had to go out to Arizona right now and find my way around, meet new people and have new teammates ... I can deal with three or four new teammates, but not a whole squad of them. That'd be kind of tough for me. I'm terrible with names as it is. But no, I meant what I said. There's no getting around it. I want to stay here. I want to be here 'til the end and see this thing out."

Will he feel more pressure? Not in his mind. He said he faced the same scenario last year.

"Obviously, people say it was pretty much a guarantee they were going to pick up my option," he said. "But you never know. I took it with the mindset that I was going to be a free agent and prepared myself for that, so I'd really done it already. Like I said, I think the biggest thing you have to watch out for is getting too emotionally caught up with the process of a contract negotiation."

Lester handcuffed the St. Louis Cardinals in two winning World Series starts, holding them to nine hits and one run in 15 1/3 innings while striking out 15 without a walk. Slugger David Ortiz took home MVP honors, so Lester had to settle for a champagne shower in a raucous clubhouse.

But on Monday, he said his postseason heroics -- including a 2.35 ERA against the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS and a 2.31 ERA against the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS -- did something for him. He said it "absolutely" took his confidence to a new level.

"You're playing on the biggest stage at the biggest time of the year," he said. "To go out there and perform and be successful, obviously I think it helps winning as well. I think that can boost your [confidence], especially those days you're not feeling so good, especially that time of year: 'Hey, I don't need to be blowing 96 [mph] in order to get guys out.' You can pitch and maneuver through lineups and do it on that stage."

He did, however, draw a rather firm line on the suggestion that he might feel better about himself as a pitcher now than he did before the postseason.

"I feel like I was a pretty good pitcher before that," he said. "But going into the postseason, we all, as kids, want to be that guy. We want to be the guy who goes into the playoffs and puts up good starts and good numbers and all that.

"I think that's probably the most satisfying thing -- I was able to do that for my teammates. When we needed to get off on the right foot and set the tone, I was able to do that. But I don't consider myself a better pitcher or worse pitcher or whatever. I still feel good about myself and where I'm at."

It was the culmination of a year in which Lester rebounded from the chicken-and-beer fiasco of 2011 and a 2012 season in which he went 9-14 with a 4.82 ERA and gave up 25 homers.

He was struggling in the middle of last season after being rocked for a 7.62 ERA in June, raising his season ERA to 4.61. The turnaround had nothing to do with mechanics and everything to do with approach. He remembers thinking, I need to get back to being me.

"Early in the season, I didn't really pitch like me," he said. "It just worked for a little while. In the middle of the season, I think guys kind of started to catch on to what we were doing early in the season. I'm not a fastball/changeup guy. That's not who I am. Regardless of if my velocity is 90-92 or 93-95, I've got to pitch the same way -- and that's coming after you with my fastball and cutter.

"We got to a point in the middle of the season, 'Hey, let's get away from the cutter a little bit.' Well, Andy Pettitte didn't get away from his cutter for 18 years. It worked just fine for him. Talking with John [Farrell], Juan [Nieves], Rossie [David Ross] and Salty [Jarrod Saltalamacchia] last year, I sat down with them individually and as a group and said, 'This isn't me. It's not who I am as a pitcher. If I'm going to go out there and get my butt beat, then you're going to have my best stuff. Here it is.'"