Jon Lester Able to Gain Knowledge From One of Baseball’s Best in Showdown With Roy Halladay

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Jon Lester Able to Gain Knowledge From One of Baseball's Best in Showdown With Roy Halladay CLEARWATER, Fla. — Prior to taking on the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday afternoon, Red Sox manager Terry Francona was asked if the day’s pitching matchup made it feel like more than your standard Grapefruit League game.

Francona knew he had Jon Lester on the mound, but had no clue who was going for the Phillies. He can be forgiven — there is plenty for Francona to think about other than the opposing pitcher at a time when game plans and strategies aren’t important.

Once reminded that it was Roy Halladay, the 2010 National League Cy Young Award winner and long time, formidable foe for Boston in the American League East while a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, Francona perked up.

“Yes!” Francona finally said in response to the question.

While he loves his ace lefty, the way in which Francona replied was more a nod to Halladay, for his presence makes everything feel like more than just an exhibition.

Indeed, in a Grapefruit League schedule littered with otherwise mundane pitching matchups, the 10,912 at Bright House Field were treated, at least for a little while, to a duel that had some in attendance on a March afternoon dreaming of October nights.

Through five innings of what would eventually be a 4-1 Phillies win, Lester allowed one hit, a single by Halladay with two outs in the fifth. Halladay, meanwhile, had matched him, with each team playing small ball to scratch across just one run apiece.

But in the sixth inning, with one out, Lester allowed six straight men to reach, three of whom scored, and was taken out after 5 1/3 frames. He pitched very well for the bulk of the afternoon and was able to get stretched out to a spring training-high 98 pitches, but had a bitter taste with the way his day ended.

“Came out of my delivery a couple of times. I don’t know if that’s fatigue or if that’s me just trying to do too much,” Lester said of the sixth inning. “Had a pretty good five innings as far as efficiency and I don’t know if I just wanted that sixth inning to be over with in my mind and put it to the wayside, but obviously not what I wanted.”

As accomplished as Lester is and as dominant as he can be from time to time, he has flaws, and he knows it. Lester often talks of limiting his walks (four more on Monday) and of avoiding those times when, as he said, he just wants an inning to be over with and begins to lose concentration.

Halladay, who allowed one run on five hits in 7 2/3 innings, offered up a prime example for someone like Lester to live by, even if it was only March 21.

“Learn as you go, take it one pitch at a time and I think that’s what makes him so special,” Lester said of Halladay. “He throws a pitch and it’s forgotten about, whether it’s good or bad, and he just continues to do that. He focuses on what he intends to do with this next pitch.”

The Red Sox lefty admitted that he can lose that focus from time to time, as was the case in the sixth inning Monday.

“Sometimes being stupid, trying to do too much, trying to throw the perfect pitch instead of executing the pitch,” he said of his sixth inning. “It goes back to learning on every pitch and trying to take something from every pitch that you can and go on to the next one.”

Francona was pleased with Lester’s work, knowing that the line is not a true indication of how well Lester pitched. As it is, several of the five hits Lester gave up were of the soft variety, something that gave the southpaw some satisfaction after the game.

To his manager, it’s all part of the process.

“For the most part, really good. I think he had four walks, had a couple of situations where he had four-pitch walks and just lost the zone for a little bit,” Francona said. “His stuff was real good. He threw all his pitches, he got real deep in the game, so that’s good.”

With Lester, Francona is only concerned with that next step forward. With Halladay, he couldn’t help but be impressed.

“He’s good. He’s really good,” Francona said of Halladay. “You hate to sit on the other side and be impressed but I’d pay to watch him pitch.”

Lester will scale back a tiny bit in his next start, Sunday at Baltimore. Then he can ratchet it back up in the regular season opener on April 1. Although the last six batters he faced Monday afternoon reached, he is on course, healthy and primed for a phenomenal season. And if he ever needs a reminder as to how to avoid those little pitfalls, he can recall March 21 in Clearwater, where Roy Halladay helped make a Grapefruit League game seem like a little bit more.

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