FORT MYERS, Fla. — Jon Lester knows how to make a good first impression.
The Boston Red Sox pitcher said after his spring training debut Monday that he felt like he needed to reintroduce himself to manager John Farrell earlier in the day because of how much he has been separated from his skipper and his teammates during his preparation in camp. Surely, the Red Sox didn’t forget about their left-handed ace, but Lester made sure of it by twirling three stellar innings against the Tampa Bay Rays in a 6-2 victory.
“I don’t know if one start validates anything. But I felt good. It felt good to get the first one out of the way,” Lester said. “It’s kind of like what we talked about last week as far as getting used to the surroundings, getting used to fans and going through the whole routine of a normal work day.”
The Red Sox opted to have Lester make his first spring start a little later than usual because of last season’s heavy workload. Lester threw a career-high 248 innings combined between the regular season and playoffs, and the Red Sox didn’t want to take any chances by rushing the 30-year-old in camp despite no signs of any physical issues.
The unique approach of bringing the veteran pitchers along slowly appears to be paying off for the Red Sox. Lester was in midseason form Monday, recording four strikeouts and scattering just one hit in his three shutout frames. He used his entire repertoire, including back-to-back curveballs on one occasion, which is rare for a pitcher making his first start of spring training.
“This is a different approach that we’ve taken, but it’s also the first time in the number of years that guys have added that full month of pitching, and we just felt it was the prudent thing to do (to) gradually bring them along,” Farrell said. “And they’re understanding of it. As long as they’re aware and they accept it, then their work is going to be quality.”
Lester, who faced Red Sox minor leaguers in a simulated game at Fenway South last Wednesday, acknowledged after his sim game that he was eager to get into live game action. The lefty certainly fed off finally getting the opportunity Monday, and he might now find a greater sense of normalcy in his spring preparation.
“It’s felt a little weird just not being a part of any games (or) being around the guys (before Monday),” Lester said. “I feel like I haven’t seen the guys in about two weeks, so that’s been a little weird. But I feel good, so I’ll just keep building on that and try to look forward to the next one.”