BOSTON (CBS) — It’s a few weeks later than he’s used to, but Red Sox lefty Jon Lester got his first spring start out of the way on Monday.
With a lengthy postseason run last season, the Red Sox chose to hold back their starting pitchers this spring. It’s a move that Lester, a bulldog whenever he takes the ball, didn’t enjoy too much over the last couple weeks, but he understood why the team went that route.
None of it mattered on Monday, as Lester tossed three scoreless innings in Boston’s 6-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays, striking out four while allowing just one hit.
“I don’t know if one start validates anything, but it felt good to get the first one out of the way. As far as getting used to surroundings, the fans, going through a normal workday, it was good,” Lester told reporters following his outing.
Lester said he threw a little bit of everything, one of the benefits from making his first start a few weeks into the spring. While the first few starts are usually used to build up strength — both on the mound and with his fastball — Lester said the extra time let him work on those details during his simulated game and minor league game over the last two weeks.
So when it was time to take the hill for the first time against a lineup made up mostly of major leaguers, Lester was ready to release his full arsenal and approach it like a real game.
“I threw a little bit of everything. That was our approach, to take it as a normal game and pitch when you have to,” he said. “I mixed some stuff up in the third inning, with some curves and back-door cutters, just trying to take it like a normal game. It’s nice to have that, because its been a couple weeks to build up. To be able to go out and throw all my pitches in a game-setting, it was good.”
Lester was locked-in during his three innings of work, striking out a pair of batters in the both second and third inning, but did work around a bit of a jam in the first. After he retired the first two batters he faced, Lester walked Rays third baseman Evan Longoria on four pitches and then gave up a single to reigning AL Rookie of the Year Wil Myers, sending Longoria to third.
But it wouldn’t take long for Lester to get out of the jam, as Sean Rodriguez grounded out on the first pitch he saw to end the inning.
All four of Lester’s punch-outs came on called third strikes, and the Sox’ lefty said having big-name Rays like Longoria and Myers in the lineup made the start feel a little bit more like a regular season game.
“It kind of gets you going a little more as far as your adrenaline,” he said. “It was a good first one as far as all that stuff today.”
Lester will make three more starts this spring before taking the ball for his fourth straight opening day on March 31 in Baltimore. He said he would use the next three weeks to get “three-start healthy”; getting stronger on the mound and fine-tuning his fastball velocity and command.
As for the 2014 team, winning another World Series is their goal, but they’re not viewing it as a “repeat.”
“We’re looking at it as a new goal, a new challenge,” said Lester. “We’re going to go out there and do a lot of the same things we did last year as far as grinding each game out and worrying about ‘now,’ not tomorrow or yesterday or anything like that. It’s a good group of guys and not a lot has changed, so I expect a lot of the same out of these guys.”
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