By Sean McAdam
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Selecting Jon Lester as his Opening Day starter Wednesday wasn't a surprise at all.
But when Terry Francona filled out the rest of his starting rotation on Thursday morning, some eyebrows were raised.
Following Lester in the rotation to start the season will be, in order, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka.
The choice of Lackey as the Sox' No. 2 has to be considered at least a mild upset. Conventional wisdom had either Beckett or Buchholz slated for No. 2, with Lackey projected as the fourth starter.
"I think we feel like Lack has a way of matching up with whomever he's pitching against," explained Francona, "whether it's a guy who's No. 1 or No. 5. You look up in the seventh and you have a chance to win, which we really like.
"Buck did so good, I think we feel like having Buck coming out third just enhances our chance to win a little bit. Buck's numbers would say that he can pitch anywhere. I think Lack's a veteran, he's done it. I just think spacing Buchholz and Lester out, there's something to be said for that, too.
"Lack showed up in great shape and looks like he's ready to go. Ultimately, if they pitch like they should, it's not going to matter. And if they don't pitch like they should, it's not going to matter."
Lackey dropped about 15 pounds this offseason and Francona expects an improved performance for Lackey's second season in Boston.
"I think he's worked hard to get in real good shape," said Francona, "and I think it's going to show. I think across the board, his numbers will be a little bit lower this year."
Francona said the incident in which Beckett was hit by a ball earlier this month and missed a turn didn't impact his decision-making.
"I just think, watching the way last year unfolded, we want to get him off to a good start," said Francona of Beckett. "We'll pitch him the first game in Cleveland on April 5. We think that will be a good place to start."
"Those are Francona's decisions," said Beckett. "Just like I would always feel like he would back me up, I back him up on his decision, as well."
When asked if there was a pride factor involved, since he was the No. 1 starter and now, in essense, is the No. 4, Beckett replied: "It is what it is. I don't get paid to make those decisions. Tito makes those decisions. I don't want that job. I never want that job. I'll let him make those decisions and I'll go out and do the best I can to put us in the best position to win."
With the rotation lined up the way it is, Lackey will pitch the home opener against New York on April 8, with Buchholz and Beckett following him in the three-game series.