First Pitch: Sox need revitalized Lester to help with turnaround

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First Pitch: Sox need revitalized Lester to help with turnaround

Jon Lester will make his 31st start of the season Friday night as the Red Sox begin their final homestand of the season, and barring anything unforeseen, will make two more after that before the season comes a merciful end on Oct. 3.

If Lester wins his final three starts -- something he's done once before this season, from Aug. 12-24 -- he'll avoid finishing with a losing record for the year.

Even that, however, would be cold comfort for Lester, who, like his team, has weathered a massively disappointing season. Lester entered this season with the third-highest winning percentage (.691) of any pitcher with a minimum of 50 decisions and the very fact that he will have to rally here in the final two weeks just to break even speaks
to how sub-par his season has been.

When Lester drew the Opening Day assignment from Bobby Valentine, it helped represent a passing of the torch for the lefty. Though Josh Beckett was then still a teammate, the choice of Lester to pitch April 5 symbolized that he -- and not the more experienced Beckett -- was the top pitcher on the staff.

Except Lester failed to make good on that designation. He won just five games in the first four months and was tagged for five runs or more five times in his first 20 starts.

Given his team's fall from contention -- and, at times, respectability -- the outcome of Lester's last three starts is largely irrelevant. At this late date, Lester's season is beyond redemption.

But, as the saying goes, there's always next year. And it's overstatement whatsoever to suggest that Lester may be the most important player if the Sox are going to successfully execute a turnaround in 2013. With Beckett dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers last month, Lester is, more than ever, the face of the pitching staff. It's impossible to foresee the Sox becoming contenders again without substantial contributions from the lefty.

Just what exactly has ailed Lester this year is difficult to pinpoint. His .314 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is up from his career average and suggests that he's been at least somewhat unlucky, as he has claimed more than once.

Still, there's far more to Lester's off-year than simple misfortune. Too often, he has seen his concentration wander as he disputes umpires' strike zones and there have been a few mechanical glitches to overcome.

One club source believes that, more than any Red Sox pitcher, Lester has suffered from the team's endless parade of pitching coaches since the end of 2010. Lester, the source said, needs a consistent, forceful message and he has not had that this season.

In addition to his occasionally wandering focus on the mound, Lester is prone to bouts of self-doubt in between outings. He benefits from someone who can expertly diagnose flaws in his mechanics. Neither Curt Young last season, nor the tag team of Bob McClure and Randy Niemann have fit that description.

But if the Sox can work out a deal with Toronto to get Farrell to manage next season, Lester could be a huge beneficiary.

"I guarantee that you that Farrell could fix Lester in about half an hour," said one of the pitcher's former teammates recently. The club source voiced a similar sentiment.

Lester had his best seasons with Farrell as his pitching coach. From 2008-2010, Lester averaged 207 innings and almost 17 wins per season, with a composite ERA of 3.25 in that span.

There's no guarantee that Farrell is returning and no assurance that he -- or anyone else -- can return the pitcher to his prior form. But put it this way: the Red Sox' path back to contention is a lot more complicated without a rejuvenated Lester leading the way.

The road back to respectability begins Friday night. The real journey begins next April.

Thursday’s Red Sox-Yankees lineups: Pedroia sits, Owens on mound

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Thursday’s Red Sox-Yankees lineups: Pedroia sits, Owens on mound

The day after clinching the A.L. East title despite a loss, the Red Sox send out a semi-makeshift lineup Thursday night as they look to avoid a three-game sweep by the Yankees in the Bronx. 

Reserve third baseman Aaron Hill is leading off, Dustin Pedroia gets the night off, Deven Marrero starts at second base, and David Ortiz is, somewhat surprisingly, back in there at DH against left-hander C.C. Sabbathia (8-12, 4.02 ERA).

Left-hander Henry Owens (0-1, 7.79) gets the start for the Red Sox in place of Drew Pomeranz, who is bothered by tightness in his left forearm and will work out of the bullpen, if at all, for the final four games of the regular season.

The lineups:

RED SOX

Aaron Hill 3B

Andrew Benintendi LF

Xander Bogaerts SS

David Ortiz DH

Chris Young RF

Jackie Bradley Jr. CF

Ryan Hanigan C

Travis Shaw 1B

Deven Marrero 2B

Henry Owens LHP

 

YANKEES

Brett Gardner LF

Jacoby Ellsbury CF 

Gary Sanchez DH

Starlin Castro 2B

Didi Gregorius SS

Chase Headley 3B

Brian McCann C

Aaron Hicks RF

Tyler Austin 1B

C.C. Sabathia LHP 

Mass. lawmakers propose naming bridge near Fenway for Ortiz

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Mass. lawmakers propose naming bridge near Fenway for Ortiz

One of the biggest gifts David Ortiz could get this weekend as he plays his final regular-season games is a well-traveled area right outside Fenway Park.

Massachusetts lawmakers have taken steps to name the Brookline Avenue bridge that spans the Mass Pike between Newbury and Lansdowne streets near the ballpark the “David Ortiz (‘Big Papi’) Bridge.

The House Ways and Means committee included the proposal as part of a spending bill that the full House could vote on as soon as Thursday and, if approved, send on to the Senate. 

“David Ortiz’s accomplishments and heroics on and off the baseball field have made him a living legend, and his heartfelt contributions to the communities here and in his native Dominican Republic have made him an icon,” said Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker. “As a lifelong Red Sox fan, I am thrilled to be able to help our Commonwealth create a lasting ‘Thank You’ to Big Papi through the renaming of this bridge.”

The proposal calls for a “suitable marker” to be placed on the bridge bearing the new name.

“I’m so excited to be part of this process of giving David Ortiz, one of the greatest Red Sox of all time, his proper due by naming a bridge in his honor,” House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said. “David has not only been an extraordinary baseball player, he has been an exemplary and inspirational member of our community, most notably after the Boston Marathon bombings. As a fan, I will miss his stride up to the plate followed by a clutch hit and the ballpark exploding into applause.”