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Lester putting down year behind him
Spring training games are under way, along with the annual debate: Should we pay any attention to results in the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues?
I believe it depends on the player. In the case of Boston’s Jon Lester, the answer is yes.
Sunday, Lester pitched two perfect innings against the St. Louis Cardinals. He looked remarkably fluid, considering this was his first game action since the end of last season — his worst in the big leagues. Lester threw all fastballs with the exception of a single changeup, reaching 93 mph when he fanned Carlos Beltran on a heater up in the strike zone to end the first inning.
Afterward, Lester’s words carried even more weight than his pristine pitching line. He used phrases like “blank page” and “starting over.” He said he wants to “get rid of the bad habits and start new ones.” He talked about focusing on the subtler aspects of his craft. He liked his delivery’s downward angle.
“All the things . . . I didn’t do last year,” he said.
One could have dismissed those statements as banal spring optimism if Lester hadn’t attained ace status — at least fleetingly — earlier in his career, and if Sunday’s results didn’t match the revised approach he outlined.
And let’s make no mistake about what Lester means to the 2013 Red Sox: A return to his 2010 form — the year he went 19-9 with a 3.25 ERA and finished fourth in the American League Cy Young Award voting — could mean the chance to contend for a division title, which some critics believe is out of the question for a quasi-underdog team.
Lester spoke of using that 2010 season as his reference point when reviewing video and making tune-ups to his delivery. That was his best major-league season, including a career-best 208 innings.
“Last year, we’re beating our heads against the wall: ‘What’s wrong? What’s wrong?’” said Lester, who went just 9-14 with a 4.82 ERA in 2012. “You can watch all the film in the world . . . 2010 is kind of my year I go back and watch. That year was good stats-wise, but just the way I felt, day in and day out, it was one of those years for me. Everything clicked every night.
“Once you overlay it, you can see. Obviously, things are going to change because your body changes. You get older. You’re not as flexible. You’ve thrown a lot more pitches. There’s different things you have to (admit), ‘OK, this is not going to be the same, but we need to get to this point.’ We finally were able to do that after the All-Star break and get back to being me toward the end of the season.”
I asked Lester if Sunday’s outing reminded him of 2010, at least in delivery and feel.
“Yeah, it’s getting there,” he replied. “It feels pretty good right now, for it being the first one. We’ve still got a long ways to go. (There are) still some things we need to improve on, and we’re going to keep pounding away. Hopefully by the beginning of the season it’s locked in.”
At the very least, the early signs are encouraging. The Red Sox need that, after the last-place horror show of 2012. And maybe Lester will be better in 2013, for all the shelling and self-doubt he endured a season ago.
“You learn a lot from things that don’t go your way,” Lester said. “You learn a lot about yourself, about your teammates . . . I don’t know if sucking sets you up for a good season, you know what I mean? If it does, great. I don’t want to do it again. It humbles you.
“For me, the biggest thing was the embarrassment of not being me. And (then) getting back to basics in the offseason, doing the stupid stuff you forget about when you’re in the minor leagues. Hopefully that puts me in that position to have a good season.”
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