BOSTON (CBS) – Win 20 games for the first time in his career? Bring home some Cy Young hardware at the end of the season?
Those seem very possible for Red Sox starter Jon Lester after an amazing start to the 2013 season. He’s followed up his abysmal 2012 by starting this campaign 6-0 with a 2.72 ERA over his first nine starts, with Boston going 7-2 in those games.
But none of those personal accolades were on Lester’s list of goals when he arrived at Spring Training in April.
There are only two words that come to mind when Lester thinks about the end of the 2013 season.
“World Series,” Lester told WBZ NewsRadio 1030 AM’s Jonny Miller when asked what his goals were this season. “You can take last year, obviously as much as a struggle as it was, if we win a World Series it doesn’t matter. Our ultimate goal whenever when we walk into that clubhouse in Spring Training is to win the World Series, not for me or (Clay) Bucchholz or someone to win 20 games.”
“You want to have a good solid season, help contribute, and get this team to the World Series and hopefully win it.”
The calendar is a long way from October, but the fire is burning hot inside Lester. He’ll try to become the first Red Sox lefty to start 7-0 in 40 seasons on Monday night when Boston begins a three-game series with the White Sox in Chicago.
Lester did say he enters each season striving to make each of his starts and give the Red Sox 200+ innings of work (on his current pace, Lester would log 217 innings).
But the main focus is, and always will be, winning a championship.
Lester said he didn’t change his approach too much this offseason after going 9-14 in 2012, but he focused more on the little things on the mound. That, and the attention to detail and upbeat nature of new pitching coach Juan Nieves, have made the difference.
“I don’t want to say I paid a little more attention to detail, but I think that was really it. I just really tried to focus on my mechanics and made sure those were right heading into Spring Training.”
“It’s been good to have him,” Lester said of Nieves. “Just how positive and upbeat he is, how meticulous he is with scouting reports and being prepared. That goes back to spring training; the first day you walk in there and sit down with him he lays out a map of what we’re trying to accomplish. There’s nothing more you can ask of a pitching coach. He’s given all we asked from him and sometimes more.”
Despite his 6-0 record, Lester still says he isn’t throwing the ball as well as he can. His success has come without a consistent curveball, but he’s been able to use his other pitches successfully.
“It’s been nice how I started this season with how I felt. I haven’t felt I’ve put a full game together from pitch one to whenever I’ve done,” he said. “For the most part I’ve pitched this year without a curveball, so I think the biggest pitch for me has been my changeup and how effective it’s been – how consistent it’s been. Without having that breaking ball it’s slowed guys enough that I’m able to get in on guys with the fastball and cutter.”
So where has that curveball gone?
“It’s a feel pitch, just like your changeup,” said Lester. “One day you can wake up, and you grip it the same way every time and it just doesn’t feel right. That’s the way it is and that’s the way it was with my curveball. I feel better with it, but it’s a continued work in progress and something you work through throughout the season.”
While a World Series title is his number one prize, Lester wants to show teammates and fans alike that his and the team’s 2012 is not the norm over at Yawkey Way.
“The biggest thing for me is to prove it was a fluke and I’m still an effective pitcher on this team. As far as the team, we have to get back to being the Boston Red Sox and prove last year was a fluke for us, a blip on the radar, and come in and play better baseball and the do the little things right. I think we’ve done that so far.”