Lester ready to lead Red Sox pitching staff

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Lester ready to lead Red Sox pitching staff

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.''

Johnson beats Mariners 6-0 for Red Sox' 6th straight win

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Johnson beats Mariners 6-0 for Red Sox' 6th straight win

BOSTON - Brian Johnson pitched a five-hitter in his first big league appearance at Fenway Park, and the Boston Red Sox stretched their winning streak to a season-high six games with a 6-0 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Saturday.

Brought up from Triple-A Pawtucket, Johnson (2-0) gave up five singles, struck out eight and walked none. The 26-year-old left-hander's only previous big league starts were at Houston on July 21, 2015, and at Toronto on April 18 this year.

Johnson became the first Red Sox pitcher to throw a shutout in his first Fenway start since Pedro Martinez on April 11, 1998. In Johnson's first start in Fenway - his fourth as a professional - he sustained a season-ending facial fracture when he hit by a line drive while pitching for Class A Lowell in 2012.

Johnson was helped by a semi-leaping catch by center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. at the wall in the sixth, Bradley's diving grab of Nelson Cruz's sinking liner in the ninth and Bradley's game-ending running catch of Kyle Seager's drive.

Xander Bogaerts' RBI single triggered a three-run first inning and Bradley hit a two-run homer in the sixth

Shut out for the second straight day, Seattle has lost seven of eight.

Rob Whalen (0-1) gave up five runs and seven hits over 5 1/3 innings in his Mariners' debut, his first big league start since Aug. 23 for Atlanta. He is Seattle's 12th starting pitcher, the most in the major leagues.

Andrew Benintendi and Sandy Leon also had RBI singles in the first, when the Red Sox had two batters hit by pitches, two walks and two runners thrown out on the bases - Dustin Pedroia at third for the first out and Hanley Ramirez at the plate for the last.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Mariners: RHPs Hisashi Iwakuma and Felix Hernandez, both on the DL with right shoulder inflammation, threw bullpen sessions. Hernandez said he "felt really good."... LHP James Paxton (strained forearm) is set to come off the DL and pitch at home Wednesday.

Red Sox: Pedroia was back at second base after getting Friday off to rest his sore left knee and not play on a wet field. He was hit by a pitch on the right forearm his first time up and went 1 for 3. ... 3B Pablo Sandoval, on the DL with a sprained right knee, was expected to play nine innings Saturday night in a rehab assignment with Triple-A Pawtucket. Manager John Farrell didn't rule out that he could be activated next week.

UP NEXT

Mariners: RHP Christian Bergman (1-2, 6.30 ERA) gave up 10 runs and 14 hits over four innings in a 10-1 loss Tuesday at Washington.

Red Sox: RHP Rick Porcello (3-4, 4.35) has gone at least six innings in eight of nine starts.

How dominant has Craig Kimbrel been? The numbers are eye popping

How dominant has Craig Kimbrel been? The numbers are eye popping

Remember that infield hit by Jonathan Villar of the Brewers off Craig Kimbrel on May 11 in Milwaukee?

Don't worry, nobody does. That's the last hit off the Red Sox closer. That's right. One hit this month.

How dominant has Kimbrel been? Going into Saturday, right-handed hitters don't have a hit off him in their past 39 at-bats. Opponents are hitting .083 against him. Move the decimal point and 0.83 happens to be his season ERA, too, to go with 13 saves. 

Here's more via @SoxNotes:

Kimbrel, 28, has been one of baseball's best closers for years with the Atlanta Braves and San Diego Padres. His first year in Boston last season was solid with 31 saves and a 3.40 ERA, but his walks climbed (30 total and 5.1 per 9 innings, the second-highest totals of his career). He also struggled in non-save situations.

There's been no struggling lately. The last run Kimbrel gave up was a home run by Kendrys Morales of the Blue Jays in the ninth inning on April 20 in Toronto that tied the score at 1 in a game won by the Red Sox 4-1 in 10. Kimbrel got the win and his only blown save of the season.

His three-out save Friday night was his first outing without a strikeout since a one-out save April 23. That followed his four-strikeout inning Thursday night.