Lester 'real excited' for bounce-back opportunity

Lester 'real excited' for bounce-back opportunity
March 31, 2013, 5:00 pm
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NEW YORK -- Following a 69-win season, a last-place finish and a third straight miss on the playoffs, the entire Red Sox team needs a fresh start in 2013.
But perhaps nobody is in more need than Jon Lester.
Lester, who will start his third straight opener Monday, suffered through his worst season, winning just nine games while watching his ERA -- and other statistical measures -- trend the wrong way.
"I'm real excited," said Lester. "We're back to everyone having zeroes and starting over, starting fresh after last year. Hopefully everything (is different). I feel like I'm in a good place, mechanically and mentally. I feel like the team's in a good place and I think all of the guys are ready to go, get started and get last year behind us."
Mechanically, Lester has tweaked his delivery to a more upright stance on the rubber, which he believes has helped him drive the ball down in the strike zone with more consistency.
That showed in spring training, and is reflected by his 0.75 ERA.
"That's what it comes down to -- not collapsing," Lester said, "and using my frame and leveraging the ball downhill. That makes the biggest difference in the world."
The corrections actually began in the second half of last season, but this spring, the results have been more obvious.
John Farrell cited Lester's "consistency," this spring, and credited "the return to a delivery that was more like him prior maybe the last couple of years, some of the habits that he drifted into." He started to initiate those changes at the end of last year and they've carried into this year. He was very sharp from start to finish."
Farrell noted that it's not entirely uncommon for even veteran pitchers to fall out of their deliveries and develop bad habits.
"There are years that maybe are outliers," he said, "that fall beneath the standard they set initially, or throughout the course of their career. I think in this case, we're fortunate that Jon has been able to make the necessary adjustments and right now, looks to be throwing the ball as he did in years when he was very strong and in the discussion for one of the top lefthanders in the game."
Indeed, from 2006 through 2011, Lester built a sparkling .691 winning percentage (76-34), the sixth-best percentage by an A.L. pitcher in his first six seasons.
But he struggled in the final month of 2011, winning just once as the team collapsed with a 7-20 wheeze. After the season, it was revealed that Lester was part of the group of pitchers partaking in eating chicken and drinking beer on days on which they weren't starting.
Then 2012 got even worse. Lester went weeks in between wins and fumed when former manager Bobby Valentine left him in for an 11-run shellacking over four innings against Toronto on July 22.
Now, Lester finds himself reunited with Farrell, who was his pitching coach during most of that earlier run when he experienced success. That may, in part, explain his more positive frame of mind.
"I think going into the off-season and really kind of forgetting about last year (helped)," said Lester. "I think the different scenery helps. I don't know. I feel like I came in, for some reason, I don't know why, just in a better place mentally. Obviously, last year was tough. But kind of re-evaluating everything last year, just forgetting about it, coming in with a clean slate and starting fresh. That was a big thing for me.
"Starting back at zero -- that was a nice change."
Even though he'll face an injury-depleted Yankee lineup Monday, he'll have to beat CC Sabathia. A year ago, he had the misfortune to draw Detroit's Justin Verlander on Opening Day, so such matchups aren't new to him.
"I love it, I think it's great," said Lester. "Yeah, it challenges you a little bit. You try not to pitch against them. They're not in the lineup so you don't have to really worry about it. Obviously, it's in the back of your mind, 'Hey, I'm facing CC, or I'm facing Verlander tomorrow, so I have to be extra good.' It's there, but I've got to worry about Ichiro, I've got to worry about (Kevin Youkilis); I can't worry about what's CC doing against us.
"But it's fun to do that, toe it up with Felix (Hernandez), toe it up with Verlander, and see where you match up in the end."