Lester continues rare early-season roll

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Lester continues rare early-season roll

By MaureenMullen
CSNNE.com

BOSTON Getting through the month of April successfully has not been easy in the past for Jon Lester. Before this year he had posted a record of 3-6 with a 4.76 ERA for the first month of the season.

Those difficulties, it appears, are in the past.

This year, Lester has not needed a one-month delay to jumpstart his season. After Tuesday nights 7-3 win over the Angels at Fenway Park, he improved to 4-1 with a 2.33 ERA. He went seven innings, allowing one run a Mark Trumbo home run in the second inning with six hits, one walk, and 11 strikeouts, a season high. It was the 15th double-digit strikeout performance of Lesters career.

I think its really encouraging, manager Terry Francona said of Lesters strong start to the season, because the last couple years Aprils been so tough for him, and once he seems to find it he doesnt lose it. I think thats really good news. Tuesday night he went out and established his fastball and used it a lot. Hes got so many different weapons and I think I said in spring training, when he knows he can repeat his pitches hes a different pitcher.

Against the Angels on Tuesday, though, Lester was much the same pitcher he was against them in Anaheim last month when he shut them out through six innings. Of four wins this season, two have come at the expense of the Angels. In 13 combined innings he has allowed just one run on 10 hits with 3 walks and 19 strikeouts.

Lester had at least one strikeout in each inning Tuesday, and recorded all three outs in the seventh, his final inning, on K's (with a Jeff Mathis single in the mix). It was his fourth straight win and sixth straight quality start in seven outings. In four of his starts, he has struck out eight or more, joining only Detroits Justin Verlander, the Cubs Matt Garza, and Philadelphias Cole Hamels with at least four such games this season.

Just was able to repeat a good rhythm, good effort level, didn't really overthrow a lot of balls tonight, Lester said. So that part was good. Kept that same effort level pretty much through the whole game.

Lester threw just 93 pitches (66 for strikes), the fewest he has thrown since 88 over 5 13 innings on Opening Day in Texas. He felt strong enough to continue, but without a day off until May 12, Francona opted to be cautious.

I just think we got to take care of him, Francona said. Were going through a stretch here where there arent any days off and hes throwing pretty hard and its early. So just want to take care of him.

The Sox offense could do little against the Angels' Dan Haren, until the third time through the order, in the sixth inning, when they scored two runs to give Lester a precarious one-run lead. The Sox bats broke the game open in the seventh and eighth, scoring a combined five runs off Haren and reliever Hisanori Takahashi.

Sometimes its nice to sit in the dugout for a while and watch guys do what they did in the eighth Lester said. But its fun to have those battles every once in a while, to see whos going to make the first mistake. I did early. Just try to hang around as best we could, keep them within striking distance. Guys did a good job of grinding at-bats out. Haren did a good job early on, too. Our offense did a great job grinding at-bats, waiting for that one opportunity to strike and we did and we took advantage of it and its always fun to see.

That kind of a battle is not always appreciated by everyone.

Im glad Lester likes it, because I sure as heck dont, said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. But its fun. Its fun to sit back there and make every pitch count, which he does anyways. Just to see him come out on top is great.

Saltalamacchia has caught six of Lesters seven starts this season and has watched the left-hander get stronger with each.

His bullpen before he came in the game, he was a little rough and wasnt sure and didnt have a feel, Saltalamacchia said. And as soon as the lights turned on and they said play ball, he was right there. But . . . definitely, every start's looking better and better.

With Lester starting strong not needing to find it as Francona mentioned it can only bode well for the Sox.

I dont feel any different compared to years past at the beginning of the season, Lester said. Like Ive always said, its about executing pitches and Ive had -- except for this year -- yet to do that at the beginning of the season. I was able to do that, velocity came a little bit earlier than normal. So I think that helps. Feel for a changeup helps. Theres different things that help. But at the same time its about execution. I didn't do that in years past and fortunately have been able to do that this year.

Maureen Mullen is on Twitter athttp:twitter.commaureenamullen

Drellich: Red Sox' talent drowning out lack of identity

Drellich: Red Sox' talent drowning out lack of identity

A look under the hood is not encouraging. A look at the performance is.

The sideshows for the Red Sox have been numerous. What the team’s success to this point has reinforced is how much talent and performance can outweigh everything else. Hitting and pitching can drown out a word that rhymes with pitching — as long as the wins keep coming.

MORE RED SOX

At 40-32, the Sox have the seventh-best win percentage (.556) in the majors. What they lack, by their own admission, is an intangible. Manager John Farrell told reporters Wednesday in Kansas City his club was still searching for its identity.

“A team needs to forge their own identity every year,” Farrell said. “That’s going to be dependent upon the changes on your roster, the personalities that exist, and certainly the style of game that you play. So, with [David Ortiz’s] departure, his retirement, yeah, that was going to happen naturally with him not being here. And I think, honestly, we’re still kind of forming it.”

To this observer, the vibe in the Red Sox clubhouse is not the merriest. 

Perhaps, in the mess hall, the players are a unified group of 25 (or so), living for one another with every pitch. What the media sees is only a small slice of the day. 

But it does not feel like Farrell has bred an easygoing, cohesive environment.

Farrell and big boss Dave Dombrowski appeared unaligned in their view of Pablo Sandoval’s place on the roster, at least until Sandoval landed on the disabled list. 

Hanley Ramirez and first base may go together like Craig Kimbrel and the eighth inning. Which is to say, selfless enthusiasm for the ultimate goal of winning does not appear constant with either.

Dustin Pedroia looked like the spokesperson of a fractured group when he told Manny Machado, in front of all the cameras, “It’s not me, it’s them,” as the Orioles and Red Sox carried forth a prolonged drama of drillings. 

Yet, when you note the Sox are just a half-game behind the Yankees for the American League East lead; when you consider the Sox have won 19 of their past 30 games, you need to make sure everything is kept in proportion.

How much are the Sox really hurt by a lack of identity? By any other issue off the field?

Undoubtedly, the Sox would be better positioned if there were no sideshows. But it’s hard to say they’d have ‘X’ more wins.

The Sox would have had a better chance of winning Wednesday’s game if Kimbrel pitched at any point in the eighth inning, that’s for sure. 

Kimbrel is available for one inning at this point, the ninth, Farrell has said.

A determination to keep Kimbrel out of the eighth because that’s not what a closer traditionally does seems like a stance bent on keeping Kimbrel happy rather than doing what is best for the team. The achievement of a save has been prioritized over the achievement of a team win, a state of affairs that exists elsewhere, but is nonetheless far from ideal — a state of affairs that does not reflect an identity of all for one and one for all.

Maybe the Sox will find that identity uniformly. Maybe they’re so good, they can win the division without it. 

Perez's eighth-inning slam, after three walks, lifts Royals over Red Sox, 6-4

Perez's eighth-inning slam, after three walks, lifts Royals over Red Sox, 6-4

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Salvador Perez borrowed a Miguel Cabrera bat from Kansas City Royals teammate Drew Butera for the first time Wednesday.

"It's a magic stick," Butera said.

It was magic for Perez, who hit his first career grand slam, connecting in the eighth inning to rally the Royals over the Boston Red Sox 6-4.

"Miggy gave the bat to Butera when Detroit was playing here," Perez said. "Drew doesn't use it. It's too heavy for him. Today, coming into the clubhouse, I put it in my locker. I like the bat.

"Today was the first day I used it and I'll use it Friday, too, before you ask me. I don't want to break that one. I've got to call Miggy and say, `You've got to send me some more bats.'"

The Royals have won nine of 11 and moved within a game of .500.

Perez homered over the Kansas City bullpen in left field on the ninth pitch from Robby Scott (0-1). With Boston leading 4-2, reliever Matt Barnes started the inning by walking Jorge Bonifacio and Lorenzo Cain on 12 pitches.

"We uncharacteristically lost the strike zone," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "For a group that has been so good at not issuing too many walks over the course of the year, we had an inning that got away from us. Matt was up in the zone. He couldn't get the ball down.

"This one stings because that group has been so good, so consistent for the better part of the whole season."

Scott was summoned to face Eric Hosmer, but walked him on four pitches to load the bases for Perez. The All-Star catcher fouled off three full-count deliveries before hitting his 15th home run of the season.

"I was happy with where the pitch was, but it was too good," Scott said. "There's not much else to say about it."

According to ESPN Stats and Information, Perez was the first Kansas City player to hit a grand slam in the eighth inning or later with the Royals trailing since Frank White in 1986. Perez went 3 for 3 in the win.

Jorge Soria (3-2) worked a spotless eighth. Kelvin Herrera pitched the ninth for his 17th save in 19 chances.

Andrew Benintendi and Xander Bogaerts hit successive home runs in the Boston fourth off Ian Kennedy.

Benintendi's drive was estimated at 454 feet and landed in the right-center waterfall. The leadoff homer was Boston's first hit, and the 100th of Benintendi's career.

Five pitches later, Bogaerts went deep to left, tying the score at 2. It was the fourth time this season the Red Sox have hit back-to-back home runs.

"I tried to go inside and the ball just ran back over," Kennedy said of the homers.

Red Sox lefty Drew Pomeranz worked 6 1/3 innings, allowing two runs and six hits.

Kennedy was removed after 4 2/3 innings, giving up four runs, two earned, three hits and three walks. He has just one victory in his past 17 starts.

Errors by Kennedy and first baseman Cheslor Cuthbert helped Boston score twice in the fifth.

ORTIZ'S CEREMONY

The Red Sox will retire David Ortiz's No. 34 in a pregame ceremony Friday at Fenway Park. "When you consider the careers that are on that facade, the numbers that are up there and the fact that his being done so soon after retiring, I think speaks volumes," Farrell said. "What he's meant to the city, what he's meant to the organization. To see him at the ballpark, see the smile, to hear the booming voice, it will be a good day for us."

TRAINER'S ROOM

Red Sox: 2B Dustin Pedroia missed his third straight game with rib soreness after being hit by a pitch Sunday. "When he went down to swing in the cage, there's still some restriction," Farrell said. "Hopefully he'll be back in the lineup Friday." ... LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (right knee subluxation) will throw a 30-pitch two-inning simulated game Saturday.

Royals: RHP Nathan Karns (forearm strain) threw off a flat surface, his first time tossing since having a setback 11 days ago. ... LHP Danny Duffy (oblique strain) will throw a bullpen session Friday and could begin a minor league rehab stint next week.

UP NEXT

Red Sox: After a day off Thursday, RHP Rick Porcello will start Friday against the Angels.

Royals: RHP Jakob Junis will start Friday against the Blue Jays.