Lester ready to lead Red Sox pitching staff

Lester ready to lead Red Sox pitching staff
February 13, 2013, 8:16 pm
Share This Post

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For as long as Jon Lester has been a member of the Red Sox pitching staff, there's been another pitcher in charge.

In 2006 and 2007, it was Curt Schilling. Since then, it's been Josh Beckett.

But with Schilling long retired and Beckett dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers last August, Lester, about to begin his eighth season with the Red Sox, is now the club's longest-tenured starter.

At 29, Lester is, finally, the staff leader.

"Since Josh left,'' said Lester Wednesday, "I'm kind of the highest-tenured Red Sox as far as that pitching staff. Yeah, I inherit that responsibility. I take it in full stride.''

Teammate John Lackey may have more experience in the big leagues, but no one has been a Red Sox starter longer than Lester.

"I don't want to call myself a leader,'' he said. "I think the people who nominate themselves to be leaders are kind of false leaders. The guys, kind of like (Jason Varitek), they go out, play hurt, bust their butt, and show everybody that they're the guy, everybody puts that (label) on him. That's what I kind of hope happens. If it doesn't, I'm still going to try to do all those things.''

But even if he's not seeking an official title, Lester seemed to embrace the role.

"I take responsiblity for that,'' he said. "That will be something fun to take on if it is given.''

Before he can set an example, however, Lester acknowledged that he needs to make some changes of his own.

"Obviously, there's a lot of things I can improve on as far as my on-field actions," said Lester. "I know I have had some problems with umpires, some problems with body language at times. I think a lot of people have. It's something we all struggle with. It's something that I can get better with. But you get caught in those moments and being competitive, you kind of throw all that stuff out the window."

Conscious that he needs to make some changes, Lester will focus on setting a good example, a list that includes "taking the ball every five days, grinding every pitch out, trying to be that guy on the field -- whether it's on Field 6 (here) or at Fenway Park -- of good body language, not cussing out the umpires, not throwing fits in the dugout, doing those little things.''

At times, Lester has come off too business-like, almost joyless, as though he's not enjoying his job or the demending city in which he plays.

"I love baseball. I love Boston,'' he said. "People don't see me other than the fifth day. When I'm out there, I'm not out there to joke around with hitters. It may not look like it, but I'm having fun. I love to pitch. I love everything that there is about pitching.

"But I don't want to come across as aloof and (that) I don't care about working hard. I take everything do very seriously.''

Attitude and approach aside, there's also the matter of performance. By his own admission, the 2012 season was not a good one for Lester. He recorded just nine wins and posted an ERA of 4.83, his highest since making the big leagues. His strikeouts were down, his hits allowed were up and there wasn't a lot to like.

And that, emphasized Lester, was nobody's fault but his.

"I didn't really like what happened last year as far as the way I pitched,'' he said. "It's solely on me. That's not on anybody else. That's not on the recolving door of pitching coaches; that's not on our manager; that's not on anybody but myself.

"There's a little bit of a chip there. I want to prove that last year was a fluke and that's not going to happen again."

Lester gets a sense that the players with whom he's grown up in the organization are as determined as he is to put 2012 behind them.

"I don't think it's a matter of talking about last year,'' he said. "You can just see it in some guys. I've played with David (Ortiz), Pedey (Dustin Pedroia) and Ells (Jacoby Ellsbury). We've never -- minor leagues and big leagues -- we've never had a season like that. We've never gotten our ass kicked that bad. It's frustrating and humbling.

"But I think it can be a positive, because no one wants to be that team. I think it gets guys back in the right mindset. Look, we need to play with a chip on our shoulders, we need to not back down when people are trying to step on us. We need to do the little things right. I think you can kind of see that from the first few days. A lot of little things are being done right with good intensity and good tempo.

''I don't think anybody wants to be in the position we were in last year. We want to be on top.''