Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Updated: March 28, 1:59 PM ET
Jon Lester to start Opening Day
By Rick Weber
Special to ESPNBoston.com
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jon Lester will be the Opening Day starter when the Boston Red Sox face the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on Monday (ESPN, 1 p.m. ET).
"The way he was lined up, he was probably targeted all along," manager John Farrell said Wednesday, "but at the same time, we didn't want that to be a focal point. His work that was needed and the adjustments he has continued to reinforce and repeat on the mound were the priorities, and we felt like it was important to focus on the needs of spring training for every pitcher, including Jon."
"All the words -- honor, privilege, all that -- especially for this organization, to be named that, I take it with great pride," Lester said after throwing four shutout innings Wednesday against the Miami Marlins. "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. 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."
Farrell said Lester has reverted back to the delivery that made him a dominant pitcher for four years before his ERA blew up to 4.82 last season, when he gave up 216 hits in 205 1/3 innings and had his lowest strikeout total since 2008.
This spring, Lester has the lowest ERA (0.75) in baseball and has allowed just eight hits in 24 innings.
Lester said the adjustment boiled down to standing tall on the mound, a problem he discovered in the second half of last season when studying film.
"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.
"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."
In the past, Boston's starters were regarded as "Josh Beckett's rotation" -- a nod to his experience and accomplishments. With Beckett now with the Dodgers in Los Angeles, is this now "Lester's rotation"?
Not necessarily, Farrell said.
"A lot is made of an Opening Day assignment," he said. "For everybody on a major league roster, that's a special day in and of itself. Once we get past that, it's maybe a cliche, but the guy who walks to the mound is our No. 1 starter. We don't want to lose the importance of the five guys in the rotation, and yet Jon has been in the discussion of a very select group of pitchers in the major leagues, and he's pitching like that again.
"We have a pretty varied group in the rotation. I think each shows their leadership by their work routine and how they go out and compete, and the priority they place on the role that they have. I can't say it's because Jon is starting on Monday that he becomes a different person in the clubhouse. I think that would be pretty unrealistic. But he's five or six years into his big league career and he's more than capable of that responsibility of being an Opening Day starter."
Farrell said Clay Buchholz and Ryan Dempster will follow Lester in the series in New York, then Felix Doubront and John Lackey will go in Toronto.
The Red Sox have the lowest ERA (3.95) and WHIP (1.27) of any team in spring training, which Farrell attributes to health, the pitchers' willingness to embrace some of the suggestions the new staff has offered, and the input of pitching coach Juan Nieves.
"I think that's shown up in some positive results that reinforce that -- whether that's working a little bit quicker or whether that's some of the individual adjustments guys are taking to the mound and repeating," he said. "Our rotation is going to give us an element of consistency, and that comes every single night. You can't stress that importance enough. That has to become a cornerstone of this team because it will take us a long way in how deep we go in this season in contention.
"Juan has done an excellent job. Juan's a very good pitching coach. He's got a lot of experience firsthand as an elite pitcher in his own right, yet his career was cut short because of injury. He's a great communicator. He's genuine. Pitchers know that he cares about them and is there at any time of day for them. Because of that genuineness, that trust is being built by the day."