It will be Lester's second straight Opening Day nod. As a result of the decision, Lester becomes the first southpaw to start on Opening Day in back-to-back years for the Red Sox since Mel Parnell started three straight of them from 1952-54.
"I'm excited and I’m the same as I was last year — honored," Lester said. "It's nice to know you’re the first one out of the gate. Like I said, it's always exciting and nice to get the first one out of the way as soon as possible, so you can build off of that."
Valentine also announced that Josh Beckett would start Boston's home opener on April 13 against the Tampa Bay Rays.The verdict to slot Lester and Beckett in their respective spots actually dates back to Valentine's first meeting with Beckett on New Year's Day.
When Valentine convened with Beckett in Texas, the Red Sox skipper never actually broached the subject. It was Beckett who raised the topic unprompted and endorsed the lefty.
"I think the No. 1 determinant was a conversation I had with Josh, where Josh explained to me about starting pitchers and their Opening Day status or mentality and he thought Jon earned the job last year and didn't do anything to lose it," Valentine said.
"I said you have a lot more knowledge of Opening Day starters and their mentality than I, so I saw the health of both of them — and it's an honor both ways. Home opener and opener, so they're both getting an honor."
Beckett’s vote of confidence wasn’t lost on Lester. From the Lester’s vantage point, the support from Beckett revealed another characteristic of the ace, one that many in the public haven’t witnessed.
"I know what he thinks of me as a person, but it's nice to hear him tell other people," Lester said. "That's what people don’t see from Josh. They think he's a hard-ass, stubborn guy that doesn't care. I think he cares more than people think about his teammates."
The Opening Day game in Detroit will feature a showdown between aces. Justin Verlander, the 2011 American League MVP and Cy Young award winner, is penciled in to toe the rubber against the Red Sox.
But Valentine said Verlander's reputation had no bearing on his decision to go with Lester.
"I definitely don't believe that the No. 1 matches up with the other team’s No. 1," Valentine said. "That doesn't hold any validity. It's a nice thing. I always think the pitchers pitch against the lineup, not the opposing pitcher."
Meanwhile, Lester will get his first crack at the Tigers' upgraded lineup. During the offseason, Detroit inked first base slugger — and designated hitter – Prince Fielder to a lucrative deal.
With Miguel Cabrera likely in front of Fielder in the lineup, they'll prove to be one of the most daunting duos in Major League Baseball. And Lester understands the challenge at hand.
"They did a great job with improving that lineup," Lester said. "It was an impressing lineup as it was before they got Prince. The nice thing about pitching there in April is it’s cold and it’s a big park, so we’ll see how far they can hit it. It’s not going to travel too well."
Through two official spring training starts, Lester has pitched eight frames, surrendering three runs and six hits. He has walked five batters and has fanned three en route to posting a 3.38 ERA.
Those numbers, along with Beckett's approval, made Valentine's decision much easier.
"I think his work ethic and that he’s had no setbacks at all with everything has been trying to do," Valentine said of Lester. "… Because you pitch the first game of the season doesn’t mean that it’s going to line up that you can pitch the first game of the playoffs. I don’t believe in any of that stuff."
Last season, Lester struggled in his first career Opening Day start, yielding five earned runs and three homers through 5 1/3 frames in a 9-5 loss against the Rangers on April 1, 2011.
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