Jon Lester made his 2010 debut last night on another milder-than-expected April evening at Fenway Park.
The Red Sox were probably hoping that Lester would mistake the climate for an early June evening. In springtime games the past two seasons, the young left-hander has been more lamb than lion.
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If Lester, 26, is to make the leap this season to legitimate Cy Young candidate, he must solve the mystery of his poor seasonal starts. In 2008 and ’09 combined, Lester was essentially two different pitchers, posting an April/May ERA of 4.58 and a 1.46 WHIP. From June on, the ERA and WHIP plummeted to 2.64 and 1.15.
In 2008, Lester, pitching his first full major league season after his cancer scare in 2006, used his no-hitter against the Royals on May 19 to jump-start his season. Last year, it was a late May start in Toronto that turned his season around.
One way Lester can expect to be better early this season is the state of his infield defense. At the start of 2009, Lester had an immobile Mike Lowell at third and an erratic Julio Lugo at shortstop. Against Tampa Bay on May 9, Lester watched ground ball after ground ball roll untouched between short and third in a 15-4 loss that skewed his early numbers.
Now, with Adrian Beltre at third and Marco Scutaro at short, those ground-ball singles should become precious outs.
“I’d like him to be both halves,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “His expectations for himself are really high. What we need to do is get him into that groove where he feels good about himself. For whatever reason, sometimes it takes guys longer than others, but once he gets into that, then he’s one of the best in the game.”