Lester closes in on Opening Day start

Lester closes in on Opening Day start
March 11, 2011, 10:35 pm
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By Maureen Mullen
CSNNE.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- In his second Grapefruit League outing on Friday going four scoreless innings, giving up four hits, with no walks and five strikeouts against the Twins Friday afternoon Jon Lester polished his credentials as the Red Sox Opening Day pitcher.

Although manager Terry Francona has not named his starter for the April 1 opener in Texas, it is a foregone conclusion by scheduling, if not results that Lester will get that start.

Itd be nice, Lester said of getting the ball on Opening Day. But its not something Im worried about right now. We still got a long way to go and some innings to go. And when that day comes, if Tito gives me the ball, itd be a big honor. But if he doesnt, its no big deal.

I just pitch when they tell me to pitch and if it lines up with that day, then so be it. Obviously, Id be very honored to take the ball that day. But, if Im not, weve got four other guys in that clubhouse that I have no problem with taking the ball. So its not something Ive even counted into or figured out. A lot of things can happen from now until then and well worry about it when that day gets here.

Lester missed his last start Sunday in Port St. Lucie -- because of the flu, throwing a three-inning simulated game Monday.

I dont feel like I was behind, he said. That simulated game helped me. I think being able to do that and still get something out of it is important, and was able to do that on Monday. I think thats the biggest key is not taking those simulated games lightly, and still trying to treat it like a game and get that soreness the next day that you would if you were in a game. I feel like Im on track and everythings going in the right direction.

In his two Grapefruit League starts, he has pitched a combined six scoreless innings, giving up five hits and one walks, with five strikeouts.

Against the Twins, he struck out Justin Morneau, on a curveball to end the first inning, and Jim Thome to open the second. He gave up consecutive singles to the next two batters, Danny Valencia and Jason Kubel, before getting Steve Holm to ground into a double play.

He retired the side in order in the third. But in the fourth, he allowed the first two batters to reach Delmon Young on a single to right field, and Morneau on Carl Crawfords first error of the spring. But Lester got Thome to ground into a double play before striking out Valencia, looking, to end his outing.

Said one scout in attendance: "He looked sharp and precise with his command of all his pitches. He threw some very good late-breaking cutters and changed speeds well with his curveball. He threw all his pitches for strikes and with confidence. It was a quality outing, kept hitters off balance."

I felt good, Lester said. I got in a little bit of a rhythm early. The main thing is everything went smoothly and everything feels good, healthy, and move on to the next one.

Lester threw 57 pitches, 41 for strikes.

Lester was real good, said bench coach DeMarlo Hale, who was managing the split-squad team. Talking about pitch efficiency, his count per inning was good. I think he ended the night with 57 pitches over four innigns, threw his breaking ball pretty well for strikes. I know he had a high percentage of strikes with that. Thats a solid outing. He missed his last start with a little bug. If he can come out and pitch like that, thats a good sign.

Possibly the sign of an Opening Day starter.

Maureen Mullen is on Twitter at http:twitter.commaureenamullen