FORT MYERS, Fla. — The games are underway in the Sunshine State, which brings about a period of time in which players, particularly pitchers, have to balance their need to simply get back into a baseball rhythm with their desire to win.
For ultra-competitive and intense figures such as Jon Lester and Jonathan Papelbon, that somewhat awkward time began Tuesday when both players made their spring training debuts in a 5-0 win over Minnesota at Hammond Stadium.
After the pair combined for three scoreless innings, they discussed that delicate dance.
"You don't want to go out there and get your butt kicked," said Lester, who struck out one and walked one. "Spring training is about working on things and getting ready for the season. At the same time you don't want to go out there and suck. It's a game mentality. I don't want to lose, I want to compete and do a good job."
For Lester, the "working on things" part involves getting each of his pitches up to snuff, as well as calming the nerves that have been building since the end of the 2010 campaign.
"I'm just glad the first one is over with because that one always seems to give me the most trouble," he said. "I don't know as far as schedule [going forward] or anything. I feel good so that's the main thing."
His manager is also pleased that his ace is through the first test and can now settle in a bit more.
"I think Jonny's first outing, he always has a little bit of anxiety," Terry Francona said. "I think he felt pretty good about himself."
Lester threw 27 pitches in his two innings before yielding to Alfredo Aceves for a pair and then Papelbon, who was extremely efficient in a 1-2-3 fifth.
Considering that Papelbon is a guy that has to ratchet it up to a great degree for his quick appearances, toeing that line between preparation and wanting to dominate can be difficult.
"It's such a fine line because when you go out there you try to compete and you lay it on the line no matter whether it’s a spring training game or not," Papelbon said. "The only difference is it just happens to be a day game rather than a night game … just have to go out and compete.
"I still think that players in the early parts of spring are going out there and making sure they are getting their work in and not necessarily overthrowing. As spring goes on, the games go on in the regular season, you can have a tendency to overthrow because there is a little more adrenaline in a regular season."
Another delicate issue for Papelbon is his effort to maintain his current vibe. He said earlier in camp that he was more locked in at this stage than he had ever been. Francona could see it Tuesday.
"He wasn't flying all over the place. He stayed close, he threw the ball down, that's good," Francona said.
"We'll take that anytime."
Papelbon added: "Hopefully I can take that through the rest of the spring and into the regular season."
To do so, he, and others, have to ensure they remain competitive while still understanding that each outing is just one more step toward the real competition.
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