Lester finally gets result he's been pitching for

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Lester finally gets result he's been pitching for

CLEVELAND Jon Lester said his confidence never totally disappeared when he went nearly two months without a win.

Sure it took a beating and was a little bloodied when the Toronto Blue Jays rocked him at Fenway Park in the worst start of his career. Going a career-worst seven starts without a win would take the starch out of any elite starting pitcher thats used to achieving good results, and plenty of them.

So Sunday afternoons masterpiece of mound dominance from Lester was exactly what the doctor ordered for the 27-year-old left-hander, and the kind of vintage outing that could bring everything shooting back for him.

Jon was terrific. He had a chance at a Major League strikeout record if I left him in and he struck everybody out, said Bobby Valentine, who mercifully removed his lefty after six innings and 101 pitches. He was pitching so well and he wasnt getting any wins. Pitching well now and then getting the win? That kind of thing might just get him on a roll.

The southpaw fanned a season-high 12 Indians hitters in Bostons 14-1 drubbing of the Tribe at Progressive Field, and allowed only three hits and one earned run in a performance everybody around the Red Sox has been waiting for.

The waiting list includes, of course, Lester himself.

Its big. Its nice. I struggled a little bit early on getting into the strike zone. But then we were able to settle in and move the ball around the plate, said Lester. I had my curveball for strikes and for chase swings. You dont have that a lot of times, so it was nice to have. Well build off that.

It sounds bad but there comes a point where you have to stop worrying about your stats and just worry about keeping your team in the game. Thats what I have kind of come to since my bad one against Toronto: just keep them in the game and in striking distance. Everything else will take care of itself. Its easier said than done, but its one of those deals where I just have to pitch.

The pitcher had stopped keeping track of his own personal stats, and that seemed to be when the turnaround occurred. Over the last four starts since the 11-run debacle against Toronto, hes 1-2 with a 4.05 ERA and has fanned 29 hitters in his last 26 23 innings pitched.

The 12 strikeouts, and the rapid rise of his swing-and-miss ratio over those last four starts, is exactly what the doctor ordered to start building back Lesters mound swagger. It was against a weak Cleveland lineup on Sunday, but it was also unmistakable as two out of every three outs record was a punch-out.

I know what type of pitcher I am. I knew that my stuff was there, said Lester. I would have liked to have gone another inning or two rather than the 12 Ks, but theyre nice. Its a confidence-booster when I throw the pitches Ive been throwing all year and I get some swings and misses.

Lester had everything working against the Tribe: the mid-90s fastball, the biting curve and the cut fastball with the slider action. It all locked in after immediately being put on his heels in the first inning when handed a 3-0 lead right out of the gate courtesy of an Adrian Gonzalez home run.

Lester was faced with first-and-third with nobody out right out of the gate in the first inning, and he managed to get out of the jam while surrendering only a single run. The Sox offense brought the thunder for the rest of the game to the tune of 14 runs and 16 hits, and Lester cruised.

Getting out of that jam was just as vital a confidence-builder as the dozen strikeouts because it was those very same jams that have morphed into mushroom clouds on Lester all year-long. Its the reason why a hurler with his stuff still has a 5.20 ERA and a 6-10 record this year.

But it sounds like Lester has finally turned the corner.

Limiting damage is big. To limit them to one run in that first inning situation was exactly the kind of thing Ive been missing all year, said Lester. You need those innings wHere you get into jams and you limit them to one, or maybe two. This year its been three, four or five run rallies, so it was nice to get out with just one and allow the offense to go to work.

Time will tell whether the lefty did it soon enough to possibly get the Red Sox back into a fading playoff picture. But just having the old Lester back after a season lost at sea is good news in and of itself.

Drellich: Sale may be Red Sox' most electrifying pitcher since Pedro

Drellich: Sale may be Red Sox' most electrifying pitcher since Pedro

The newest lefty ace can succeed where David Price did not.

Chris Sale might be the most electrifying pitcher the Red Sox have had since Pedro Martinez.

Josh Beckett had his moments. Jon Lester was steadily excellent.

But the stuff Sale brings is a step above.

A spaghetti-limbed motion and a fast pace. The ability to throw any pitch in any count, something said of many pitchers, but noted here without exaggeration. A delivery that disguises each pitch as another until there’s no time to react.

MORE ON CHRIS SALE

There's been a lot of talk about how competitive Sale is. That's great.

Let's acknowledge how filthy he is before going crazy about the intangibles. He carves hitters better than he does jerseys.

Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has made some questionable moves, but he deserves some optimism here. Some early praise, even -- no matter how well Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, the best prospects he gave the White Sox for Sale, are faring this spring.

Where Dombrowski failed with Price thus far, he may succeed immediately with Sale.

Yes, Sale's 10-strikeout performance against the Yankees on Tuesday night was just a spring training game. But he was dominant to the point that a Grapefruit League game was actually made interesting.

Must-watch, even.

“You guys saw,” Sale told reporters in Florida. “Just felt good.”

All three pitches were working for Sale, the fastball, slider and changeup, and the variants thereof.

“I've been working on my changeup a little bit more the last couple of outings,” Sale said. “My last time out it wasn't great, but just working on it in between starts, just throwing it on the flat ground, it's a pitch that doesn't take a whole lot of stress on your arm. So even when you're just playing catch, you can flip it around, work on grips, things like that.

"As far as my slider, I feel good about it. . . . Obviously when I'm throwing harder, I think it's a little bit flatter. When I take some off of it, not only do I have a little bit more control, but I think it has a little bit more depth. Plus, it kind of creates another pitch in there. It's like an in-between fastball-changeup type of thing. Anything to give them a different look or try to throw them off. That’s kind of the name of pitching."

American League Rookie of the Year runner-up Gary Sanchez was miles in front of the 2-and-2 changeup he swung over in the first inning. Matt Holliday was frozen by a slider at the belt on the inner half.

Chris Carter, he of 40-home run power, was beat by a 2-and-2 fastball an inning later, clearly thinking off speed and unable to decipher just what was coming in time.

Aaron Hicks tried to golf an 0-and-2 slider by flinging his bat into the stands, somewhere behind the third-base dugout.

That’s just the first two innings.

"He added his third pitch more this evening than five days ago, when it was more fastball-changeup," manager John Farrell said. "He had his breaking ball to both sides of the plate, and got underneath to some right-handed swings. And any time he needs to, he's got such good feel for the changeup to get him back in counts to give him a different look. He was impressive."

Opening Day at Fenway Park will be exciting. But Game No. 2, when Sale is to make his Sox debut, should bring the most intrigue.

Chris Sale dominant again in Red Sox' win vs. Yankees

Chris Sale dominant again in Red Sox' win vs. Yankees

By Pat Bradley, CSN Staff

Chris Sale was treating this like a regular season game, and delivered an excellent, midseason performance.

The Boston Red Sox got a taste Tuesday of the star pitcher they acquired last offseason, when Sale dominated the New York Yankees in a 4-2 spring training road win in Tampa, Florida.

Sale, who entered the game having thrown 63 of his 68 spring pitches for strikes (92%), continued to show off his incredible command, throwing 58 of his 86 pitches for strikes (67%) in the victory.

The 27-year-old struck out five of the first six Yankees he faced, and finished with an even 10 strikeouts on the night. He’s now struck out 20 batters to just one walk this spring.

"Obviously, anybody who knows anything about sports knows about Boston and New York," Sale said, via The Providence Journal’s Tim Britton. "Coming in here, playing against the Yankees, playing at their park in a night game, it gives it more of a regular-season feel. That's what we're here for. Anytime you can get that much closer to a regular-season game, the better off we're going to be."

His single blemish came on a 2-2 pitch to Yankees designated hitter and noted masher Matt Holliday, who sent the ball sailing to the opposite field for a two-run home run that at the time tied the score at 2.

Sale quickly regrouped, lining out Chris Carter to left field on his very next pitch to end his outing. His final line: two runs on four hits with 10 strikeouts and a hit batsman in six innings on 86 pitches.

That’s quite a debut to the rivalry, and something the Red Sox are well aware could become a regular thing.

“I don't want to say tonight is the norm,” began Red Sox manager John Farrell, via The Providence Journal, “but certainly he is very capable of doing that every time he walks to the mound.”

Sale wasn’t the only one strutting his stuff on Tuesday, though. Youngsters Marco Hernandez and Sam Travis continued to hit and were pivotal parts of a Red Sox offense that pounded out 13 hits.

After Mike Miller opened the scoring with a solo homer for Boston in the third inning, Travis kept things rolling a few batters later when his base hit scored Hernandez.

Travis was back at it again in the seventh inning, when his groundout scored Heiker Meneses for what proved to be the game-winning run.

Hernandez and Travis each finished 2-for-4, with Hernandez tripling (his fifth of the spring) and scoring a run and Travis driving in two runs of his own. They raised their spring averages to .422 and .351, respectively.

Every member of the starting lineup -- which did not feature regulars Mookie Betts, Dustin Pedroia, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval or Xander Bogaerts -- recorded at least one hit, save for Jackie Bradley Jr., who went 0-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts out of the cleanup spot.

Boston is back in action Thursday with a 1:05 p.m. start against the Pittsburgh Pirates.