FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jon Lester spent a good chunk of time Sunday morning working to perfect his pickoff move to first and it would surprise no one is the rest of the Red Sox pitching staff was instructed to do the same over the next few weeks.
Manager Bobby Valentine believes the Sox' pitchers need to do a better job controlling the running game.
Asked, based on video and reports, how well the Sox did in that regard last seasons, Valentine didn't mince words: "Not very well," he said without hesitation.
"Statistically, it would be fair to say, we were the worst in our division, 14th in baseball and eighth in the American League. It depends on how you determine that."
Valentine singled out lefty reliever Franklin Morales (four pickoffs) and Lester (four) as two Boston pitchers who did well. Others, such as Josh Beckett, against whom opposing base stealers were 31-for-34 despite 83 throws over to first.
Speaking about the team's success rate as a whole, Valentine concluded: "I would say it could be worked on. It's part of this program, spring training."
Valentine said improvement is essential, since two division opponents -- Tampa Bay and Toronto -- ran with abandon last season and aren't likely to be any less aggressive this season.
"There are a couple of other teams in the Central who can advance 90 (feet)," he said. "I'm all with guys (who say), 'Hey, you don't get any points for getting to second -- I'm getting the hitter out.' I get that."
Indeed, former Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell was just such an advocate, arguing that it was more important to focus on the batter rather than be distracted by being pre-occupied with the runner. Farrell advised against using the slide step for some pitchers, worrying that the quality of the pitches suffered as a result.
"I don't like anything," Valentine said, "including a divided concentration, that would limit or minimize in any way the pitchers' ability to get the hitter out. Most bio-mechanical studies say that if you pitch out of the stretch quickly and correctly, your stuff will not be diminished.
"Part of the whole program is that you will vary your look to the plate, but never diminish your stuff."