Kelly Shoppach first caught Jon Lester in the minors nearly seven years ago, and the catcher remembers the pitch in its infancy.
“It was this little baby cutter,” Shoppach said. “It’s a different pitch now.”
It’s also a much different era for the duo. In 2005, Lester and Shoppach were prospects in the Red Sox organization. But during Sunday’s 6-1 win over Baltimore, they were reunited as battery mates for the first time since their farm system days.
Although Lester issued four walks, he fared well in the outing, yielding one hit and one run through four frames. It marked Lester’s first stint against significant competition after throwing against the Twins’ B-team and Northeastern earlier this spring.
Lester noted the increase in talent was a better gauge for his progression.
“A little more realistic,” Lester said. “Even though the Twins had some guys over there that you’d face normally, the crowd atmosphere and to face pretty much their everyday lineup was nice. You can tell just kind of the different at-bats that these guys are as opposed to a B-game. It seemed like everyone was trying to get out of there as quickly as possible. They seemed to work the count a lot more than usual.”
Lester is still trying to reestablish a rapport with Shoppach after the seven-year hiatus, which started in 2006 when the catcher was traded to Cleveland. To accomplish that goal, Lester started Sunday’s game with a few fastballs.
The lefty also mixed in breaking balls and a cutter. Despite Lester’s four walks, Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine was pleased with his ability to adjust to the umpire’s strike zone.
“It seemed like with the ball over on that cut side of the plate, it wasn’t being called at all,” Valentine said. “He had to make an adjustment to the other side of the plate and he made some really good pitches over there.”
For the first time this spring, Lester unleashed more than one cutter in a game. And after seven years without catching the cutter, Shoppach noticed the strides Lester made –– and it wasn’t limited to on the field.
“He’s grown up and become a man and gone through a lot of stuff in his life,” Shoppach said. “It might be more important than anything he does on the field. When you’re forced to grow up in another way in this game, you tend to understand the reality of this game and not take it for granted and appreciate every opportunity you have. That’s a seven-year span I didn’t see him. There was a lot of time to grow there.”
The pair will now attempt to pick up where they left off.