CLEARWATER, Fla. Monday afternoon Jon Lester showed why manager Bobby Valentine tabbed the left-hander as the Red Sox Opening Day starter.
Lester carved up the Phillies over seven shutout innings, allowing just three baserunners, as the Red Sox won, 6-0. He gave up just two hits with a hit batter, no walks, and 10 strikeouts. Lester threw 88 pitches, 63 for strikes.
The Phillies entire offensive output came in the third inning, when Luis Montanez opened with a single but was thrown out trying to score on Freddy Galvis double. With two outs Jimmy Rollins was hit by a pitch, before Placido Polanco flied out to Ryan Sweeney in right field to end the threat.
It was a performance Valentine would be happy to see on Opening Day in Detroit.
Yes, I would, Valentine said.
Well, I think that speaks for itself. I dont have to describe it. You saw it. He was outstanding. Thats what he was aiming to do. He threw about 90 pitches and how many strikeoutsd he get, nine, 10? Thats pretty good. But the fact that he was ahead in the count. He was happy with that. Threw his off-speed pitches down in the zone anytime he wanted. Fastball was explosive. Thats pretty good stuff.
And better than his last outing, March 21 against the Pirates, when he gave up four runs on eight hits and two walks with one strikeout over three innings.
Felt pretty much he same as last time, just was able to get the ball down in the zone a little more, Lester said. Obviously when you're able to do that, most of the time you get better results than last time. So that was the biggest thing early, just trying to establish getting the ball down and we were able to do that.
He went to a three-ball count just once, and ended his outing by getting John Mayberry swinging for strikeout No. 10.
Thats a combination of getting the ball down, Lester said. When I throw that breaking ball in the dirt they swing at it because everythings been down. Im not up in the zone, up in the zone, and then try to bounce a breaking ball and they can kind of see it a little bit easier. So more contact early, going after guys. It helps when you only go three balls on one hitter. its a big step in the right direction for me.
Lester threw all his pitches, but was able to stay away from his cutter early, allowing him to work on other pitches.
I think it just happened that way, said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. We were getting ahead and when you get ahead like that you want to work on pitches. We didnt even get to work on his sinker till late in the game because anything he threw, he was just throwing it for a strike.
But his cutters a pitch that you can use early in the count or late in the count. So we used it in both counts, early to gets swings and see if we could jam them and late for the swing.
Said one scout in attendance:
Lester showed the best changeup I have seen him have and he used it a lot. It was dynamite. He pounded his fastball inside well, also. His curveball was sharp, fastball command plus, and cutter was solid.
This was as good as I have seen him. Really good today.
For Lester, now its just a matter of getting ready for Opening Day.
Pitch, Lester said of his focus between now and then. Thats the biggest thing is just pitch. Get innings, get runners on base, work on stuff like that and thats always the biggest thing is just pitch.