Lackluster Spring Stretches Carry Over Into Regular Season for Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz

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Lackluster Spring Stretches Carry Over Into Regular Season for Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz Whether following a good game or a bad one, a solid start or a disaster, a positive at-bat or one which resulted in a strikeout, the mantra in March remains the same: The results in spring training do not matter.

That may be true in most instances, but is there something to having better results near the end of the preseason slate? Certainly, managers use their regulars more often and situational baseball becomes a bit more common. Shouldn’t the outcomes of the games those regulars play matter a bit more when the regular season is right around the corner? In a sport that breeds creatures of habit, simply having that feeling of success should help in achieving more, shouldn’t it?

If that’s the case, then there could be some relationship between March and April for the Red Sox. They were 1-10-1 in their final 12 games in Florida before a win in Houston in the exhibition season finale. Once the calendar turned to April, they were steamrolled by the Texas Rangers, who outscored Boston 26-11 in a season-opening sweep.

Although there are still 159 games to go, the results in Arlington do indeed matter.

NESN’s own Peter Gammons made the observation that the Red Sox were in “cruise control” late in spring training. That is a qualitative assessment, taken from seeing guys get a bit antsy and begin to go through the motions during a monotonous month.

However, in addition to the many losses the team piled up late last month, there were a few numbers which add credence to the theory and make one wonder if statistics at the end of spring training really do matter.

As far as the pitching goes, they just might.

Jon Lester, a notoriously slow starter in the regular season, gave up three earned runs in his first 15 2/3 innings this spring. He surrendered seven runs in his final 4 1/3 innings. The bulk of that came in a minor league game that offered Lester his only dose of competition over a 10-day stretch leading up to his rocky debut Friday. It had been a long time since he had gotten consistent outs in a major league game. If you want to subscribe to this theory, that might’ve been one cause for the ugly line.

John Lackey matched Lester through his first 15 2/3 innings in Florida, also yielding only a trio of runs. The only action he received from that point on was a start against the Rays on March 22, in which he gave up five runs in 5 1/3 innings, and a simulated game several days later on a rainy field at the player development complex. Therefore, he entered his debut Saturday having not felt what it was like to have solid results in a major league atmosphere since St. Patrick’s Day, when he beat the New York Mets with 5 1/3 impressive innings.

Those who place precedent in spring training results might not have been all that surprised to see Lackey struggle when the real thing rolled around.

Clay Buchholz did not allow a run in his first three outings in Florida. That comprised a total of nine innings. He then gave up 14 runs in eight innings over his next two starts, including an appearance against the Florida Marlins in which he surrendered four home runs. While Buchholz established some degree of normalcy in a final tune-up versus Tampa Bay, the gopher ball that emerged late in spring training reared its ugly head in his season debut Sunday, when he gave up four more home runs to the high-powered Rangers, his highest total since 2009.

It’s only a theory based on a small sample size, and one that the players almost always seem to refute, but the fact that these three pitchers had either very few major league innings down the stretch in Florida, or struggled when they got them, might suggest there is correlation.

Fortunately, for the Red Sox, the two starters who ended the spring on the best note from a results standpoint were Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka, the scheduled starters for the first two games in Cleveland.

Perhaps they will be poised to give the club the starts it needs in order to get into the win column for the first time in 2011.

Do spring training results, especially for pitchers, matter at all? Leave your thoughts below.

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