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BOSTON (CBS) – Jon Lester is ready to do something he has never done before.
On Friday, he will get the start for the Red Sox season opener, the first opening day start of his young five-year career.
“Obviously it’s an honor to pitch opening day,” Lester told WBZ NewsRadio 1030′s Jonny Miller. “It’s something that you always watch as kids growing up, you always watch opening day. It’s a big deal.”
Lester will try and improve on his best season in the majors. The lefty went 19-9 with a 3.25 ERA, tossing 208 innings and tying his career high with 225 strikeouts in 2010.
Improving on those numbers may prove difficult, but it would not surprise anyone on the Red Sox if Lester pulls it off.
“We’re excited about Jon,” Manager Terry Francona said of his opening day starter. “We’ve seen him come from being a pup and go through some really difficult times. It’s exciting, this kid being as good as he is, is probably going to get better.”
“Jon’s a great pitcher and a great talent,” third baseman Kevin Youkilis said. “Its been really impressive to see him come from the minor leagues as a young, raw pitcher with a good arm. Now he’s dominating, he’s dominating with the best of them. He’s a fierce competitor on the mound and he’s learned how to harness that too.”
Lester nearly completed his first 20-win season in 2010, but fell just short after suffering a loss to the White Sox in the final week of the regular season. While winning 20 would be a great addition to his resume, Lester remains focused on the team’s goal rather than a personal accolade.
“If I win 20 games, yeah that would be great,” he said. “It’s something I can tell my grand-kids some day, or tell my son ‘your old man wasn’t too bad, he got to win 20 games one year.’ That would be something special. But when it’s all said and done, the team comes first and I want to win a World Series. That’s the most important thing right now.”
“I want a ring,” Lester said adamantly. “If along the way I get 20 wins, great. Obviously I’ve already been a part of the World Series, but I never felt a part of that team not being there the whole year. I want to be here from day one all the way until the end and see what happens.”
Lester missed most of the 2007 season as he recovered from Non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He returned in July to start 12 games, posting a 4-0 record in the regular season. His most important start came in October when he started, and won, Game four of the World Series in Colorado against the Rockies.
He has since won 50 games in the regular season and become one of the most dominant pitchers in the American League. Still, Lester works hard between each and every start refining his pitches and working on the ones that he wants to improve.
“The scouting report is out, its been out for awhile that I like to throw my fastball and cutter, so that’s why we need to work on my curveball and change up,” Lester said of the work he put in this spring. “I’ve been feeling really good with my changeup. I haven’t gotten quiet the results I want with it, but I feel good with it so that’s the main thing.”
Lester tends to struggle early in the season, especially in the month of April. He hopes to kick his early season woes in 2011, and having a stacked lineup like the Red Sox do will certainly help.
“The nice thing about this team both offensively and defensively, if you keep us in the ball game, with our bullpen and the guys we send up to the plate, we’re going to have chances to win a lot of games” he said.