By Sean McAdam
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Good as he's been the last three years (50-23 with a 3.29 ERA), Jon Lester can't seem to get off to a good start when the regular season begins.
Last year, he won just one game before May and had an ERA of 4.71. The year before it was more of the same, with a 1-2 mark and a 5.40 ERA in April.
Lester has tried everything he can think of to change his performance early in the season. So this year, he's trying something else: nothing.
"It is what it is," shrugged Lester. "At the end of the season, it all comes out in the wash. We've tinkered with different things down here in the past. I'm just going to get ready for April. Whatever happens, happens.
"I'm going to try to put myself in the best position to go out and win every game I pitch. That's all I can control. Like I said, it all comes out OK at the end of the season and that's all I'm worried about."
Indeed, Lester has won almost 75 percent of his starts after the first few months of the last three seasons. He's frustrated by starting poorly, but at this point, there's little else he can do to change his luck.
"Obviously, I don't want to go out there and suck," he said. "I know that I'm going to get on a roll. I know I'm going to pitch well eventually and the earlier I can do it, great. If I can't, I'm still going to go out there and compete and try to win and give everything I've got."
If improving his early-season performance isn't something he can impact, Lester does believe that he can improve his command.
"Walks -- that's the main thing to me," said Lester. "Too many free passes last year. Too many long innings, too many two-out walks that just add 10-12 extra pitches that aren't needed. That's an extra inning, or an extra arm out of the bullpen."
Toward that end, Lester will work on fine-tuning his delivery some, but believes most of the walks come from a lack of focus.
"Sometimes you get two quick outs and I think I'm out of this inning," he said. "And you're really not. You walk a guy or give up a stupid base hit, where you weren't focused because you already had two outs.
"It's all mental. It's all about trying to keep that edge. Go after guys - I'd rather give up more hits than walks."
One other sticking point for Lester was his inability to reach 20 victories. He had a chance in the final week of the season against the Chicago White Sox, but failed and was left at 19 wins.
"It was the last start, so it's the last thing I remember," Lester said. "It left a little bitter taste in my mouth this off-season. It took a little while to get over it. But this is a new season. I'll move on and worry about some other things now and try to it all over again, I guess."