Improvements finally pay off for Lester

788680.jpg

Improvements finally pay off for Lester

CHICAGO -- Thanks to some poor run support and, at times, his own inability to preserve leads, it had been almost a month since Jon Lester picked up a win.

For the starter considered to the be the No. 1 pitcher in the Red Sox rotation, three wins in his first 13 outings wasn't good enough.

Saturday night, Lester took a step to address that, shutting out the Chicago Cubs for six innings before stumbling some in the seventh, allowing a three-run homer to Luis Valbuena.

That made things tighter for the Sox, turning a 4-0 cushion into a one-run nailbiter, but thanks to some nice work turned in by the bullpen, the Sox held off the Cubs, 4-3, giving Lester his first victory since May 18.

"I threw 102 pitches and one was a mistake,'' said Lester, a reference to Valbuena's three-run shot. "You look at the hits they had a couple of flares to right...I think they had three infield hits. I've got to take that positive from the bad contact.

"One squared-up ball give them three runs. I have to keep executing.''

Lester had a marathon 10-pitch at-bat against Welington Castillo, whom he walked immediately before giving up the three-run homer. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia thought the Sox had Castillo struck out on a 1-and-2 changeup, and judging from the pitcher's body language, so did Lester himself.

Lester credits an improved cutter in his last few outings, which has given him another out pitch, one hitters sometimes chase out of the zone. He had eight strikeouts Saturday, and his last four outings, he's fanned 29 -- and walked just four -- over 26 13 innings.

"I haven't been walking guys,'' said Lester. "I've been giving up more hits, but I think that's the nature of the beast when you're around the zone more. But I'll take the hits that I gave up tonight -- obviously, with the exception of one.''

Neumeier: Clay Buchholz could be important for Red Sox down the stretch

Neumeier: Clay Buchholz could be important for Red Sox down the stretch

Bob Neumeier explains why he thinks Clay Buchholz will ultimately end up being key for the Boston Red Sox down the stretch even if it is just a bullpen role.

Sandoval happy to return to the field after shoulder surgery

red_sox_pablo_sandoval_060415.jpg

Sandoval happy to return to the field after shoulder surgery

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- For the first time in months, Pablo Sandoval met up with his Red Sox teammates Wednesday, breaking from his rehab program two hours away in Fort Myers.

Sandoval, who underwent shoulder surgery in April to repair a torn labrum, has been working out six days per week at the club's spring training complex and appeared noticeably lighter.

"I just starting taking ground balls two days ago,'' said Sandoval. "I feel a little better. I'm happy to be back here with my teammates and happy that I'm starting to work in the field.'' 

Sandoval said his surgically repaired left shoulder is "not back to normal, but it's feeling a lot better. I've started doing a lot of things in the field -- ground balls, playing catch, handling the ball, working out.''

He plans to see Dr. James Andrews soon, and hopes to get clearance to start swinging a bat.

Sandoval appeared to make some veiled references to his weight and conditioning, saying "you learn a lot. You learn from all the mistakes you make, all the things in the past. I have good people around me, supporting me every single day.''

He added that he feels "way different'' than he did in spring training.

"Now that I've learned my lesson,'' he said, "I can do a better job out there. Everything out there is not easy. You have to work hard to learn all the things you were doing wrong. I'll keep working hard and do everything I can to be a better person on the field and off the field.''

As he grinds through conditioning and rehab, Sandoval said he's motivated by "my little boy (Leon). Every time I wake up, I want to do everything for (him), so he can see me back on the field, playing baseball.''

He deflected a question when asked what role he envisioned for himself next February at the start of spring training.

"Whatever,'' he said. "I'm just going to do best that I can. I just want to prepare myself to be better next year.''

Sandoval met with John Farrell Wednesday afternoon.

"He's in good spirits,'' Farrell said. "I think he feels good with all the work he's done. To date, he's done a good job with what he's been capable of doing. The one thing that's clear in getting to know Pablo, I see a guy who's got a lot of pride. Maybe things haven't worked out the way he anticipated through the first two years.

"But it's clear through my conversation with him that he's motivated, he feels like he's got a lot to prove. And I think when you combine his ability with the drive and motivation, this has got a chance to prove to be a productive player here in Boston.''

Meanwhile, Sandoval acknowledged that the Red Sox had not seen him at his best in his two seasons with the club.

"I know that I can prove more and do a better job out there,'' he said. "Things happen for a reason. I'm happy, but I'm not satisfied with the things I'm doing. I'm just going to keep working hard, continue my rehab and be better for next year.''

Sandoval said he misses the game, but watches the Red Sox on TV "every single day.''

"This (time down) is a bonus for me,'' he said. "I want to play, but at the same time, I (get) to see my baby growing up.''