Lester closes in on Opening Day start

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Lester closes in on Opening Day start

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

Quotes, notes, and stars: "No sign" of Ortiz slowing down

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Quotes, notes, and stars: "No sign" of Ortiz slowing down

Quotes, notes, and stars from the Red Sox' 4-2 win over the Yankees.

QUOTES:

* "He gathered himself and got a little rhythm as the night went along.'' - John Farrell on Henry Owens.

* "That's a rarity for Betances to leave his breaking ball up like he did. Once David saw it up, he attacked.'' - Farrell on David Ortiz's game-winning homer.

* "There's no sign of him slowing down. Tonight is a prime example of it. Key moment, big hit when we need it. There's a long resume there and it's continuing to build.'' - Farrell on Ortiz's ability to deliver in the clutch.

* "There were some mechanical adjustments that I made. I came out a little erratic, trying to do too much, maybe focusing too much. But as game went on, I kind of got into a rhythm.'' - Owens on his start.

* "I saw him throw a lot of breaking pitches to Mookie. The one they hit stayed up a little longer than usual. He's the kind of pitcher that, if you go up there looking for everything he's got, you're done.'' - Ortiz on his game-winning homer off Dellin Betances.

NOTES:

* Over his career, David Ortiz has hit 29 go-ahead homers from the eighth inning on.

* Ortiz has eight homers in his last 24 games against the Yankees.

* The win was the first this season for the Red Sox in a game in which they were tied or trailing after seven innings.

* The Red Sox have won five of their last six and seven of their last 10.

* The Yankees have been limited to three runs or fewer in their last six games.

* In 21 games, the Yankees have faced 10 lefty starters; in 22 games, the Red Sox have faced two.

* Masahiro Tanaka has issued just one walk in his last three starts.

STARS:

1) David Ortiz

With one swing of the bat, Ortiz untied a 2-2 game in the bottom of the eighth with a game-winning two-run homer.

2) Jackie Bradley Jr.

Bradley's penchant for delivering a big hit continued as he rapped a two-run double to left in the seventh to erase a 2-0 Yankee lead.

3) Masahiro Tanaka

He shut the Red Sox for six innings before allowing three hits and two runs in the seventh.

First impressions from the Red Sox' 4-2 win: Ortiz has flair for the dramatic

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First impressions from the Red Sox' 4-2 win: Ortiz has flair for the dramatic

First impressions from the Red Sox' 4-2 win over New York Yankees...

* David Ortiz still has a flair for the dramatic.

Matched against Yankees reliever Dellin Betances, Ortiz cracked a two-run homer into the Monster Seats to snap a 2-2 tie in the eighth inning. Ortiz now has 18 RBI in 23 games -- he didn't start in four of those games - and at 40, remains the one hitter opposing teams want to face with the game on the line.

Before the homer, Ortiz was 0-for-7 against Betances, with four strikeouts.

* All things considered, Henry Owens did OK.

Owens didn't fool anybody. He couldn't command his fastball, and when the Yankees did hit it, they hit it pretty hard. He walked three and hit another. But Owens managed to limit the damage in a big way, allowing just two hits in six innings despite 10 baserunners.

Occasionally, he would get bailed out by his changeup, which seems to be the lone pitch he has that is better than average by major league standards.

* Jackie Bradley Jr. continues to hit when it counts.

Bradley got the Red Sox offense going with a two-run, two-out double off Masahiro Tanaka, when the Sox were down to their final seven outs.

In the last week along, Bradley hit an extra-inning homer; a solo homer that represented the only run of the game; a ninth-inning triple; and Friday's big two-base hit.

That he has 10 RBI from the bottom of the order suggests he can provide some sock from that spot.

* Matt Barnes continues to make strides.

Since allowing a homer to Kevin Kiermaier on the last homestand, Barnes has allowed just one run in his last four appearances, covering 6 1/3 innings, while holding opposing hitters to a .208 batting average (5-for-24).

* The Yankees bullpen gets all the attention, but in relief of Owens, Barnes, Koji Uehara and Craig Kimbrel faced nine hitters and retired them all.

McAdam: Gordon suspension is proof MLB testing works

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McAdam: Gordon suspension is proof MLB testing works

Kevin Millar, John Farrell and Sean McAdam talk about Dee Gordon’s 80-game suspension for PED violations.