No looking back for Lester
Red Sox southpaw turns the page, not thinking about cancer
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- There were no concerns or questions about a lack of work for Jon Lester on Saturday afternoon.
In his first game appearance on a mound since clinching the 2007 World Series with a victory in Game 4, the lefty labored through 44 pitches and retired just three batters in his Grapefruit League debut as the Red Sox edged the Twins, 7-6.
Lester struggled to find his command from beginning to end. After throwing a first-pitch strike to Carlos Gomez in the first, the Red Sox starter threw a ball to each of the next six batters he faced. His lack of command forced his pitch count to add up quickly, as he needed 19 pitches to get through the first inning.
Pitching coach John Farrell jogged out in the middle of the inning to counsel and console his struggling starter.
"Just slow down and make the pitch," Lester said of the advice offered. "One pitch gets you out of the inning."
Farrell's visit provided a much-needed breather for the southpaw, because "it wears on you, especially down here in the sun and the heat," said Lester.
The message apparently registered, as Lester, with the bases loaded and none out, managed to get Justin Morneau to ground into a 6-4-3 double play.
The run-scoring play saved Lester's pitch count for the inning as he got Brendan Harris to ground out to shortstop to end the frame.
But Lester couldn't build on that in the second, as he allowed a leadoff double to Mike Lamb. Walks to Matt Macri and Alexi Casilla, sandwiched around a fielder's choice which Sean Casey misplayed, led to the end of Lester's day without an out being recorded in the second.
"Today I was happy," said Lester. "I had a good life on my fastball, threw a couple good two-seams into lefties. All in all, I was happy with my overall performance it's just that the numbers weren't there. Looking at some swings, I threw some fastballs down the middle that guys were late on, so I know I have that little extra where last year that ball would have been hit pretty hard. I'm happy with the little things, but at the same time, there are a lot of negatives you can take out of this."
Lester was charged with five runs (four earned) and two hits in one inning. He walked four, struck out none and threw a wild pitch.
"You still have to go out and pitch and execute pitches no matter how confident you are," said Lester. "I was confident today and got it handed to me. That's in the past, turn the page and move on to a new year and hopefully we can do it again."
"He's such a perfectionist, he wants to be perfect," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "And he was fighting himself a little bit. Repetition will be good for him and it was nice to see the ball coming out of his hand like that. The repetition will be really good for him."
Instead of wondering if Lester will be able to contribute, Francona is just concerned this spring about getting the southpaw ready to contribute as one of the staff's five starters.
"He's getting ready for a good, long season," Francona said. "He just needs to get ready for a long season, build up his arm, pound the strike zone and get ready."
Lester struggled all day to find command of his breaking ball, a pitch he uses during the season with regularity.
"My curveball was way behind my fastball," Lester said. "I wasn't even close with the ones I threw. I got two swings, [including] a hanger I got away with. I'm not giving hitters a chance to even offer at it now but it's early. It's a little bit of staying back, it's release point and a little bit of trying to do too much with it. It's not one thing right now that's contributing to balls being all over the place."
Despite the long second inning, Lester was happy that he felt strong when he left after throwing 44 pitches, and only 20 for strikes.
"Last year, I had one inning with 15 pitches my first start," Lester said, referring to his first outing on the same Hammond Stadium mound last spring after returning from lymphoma. "This year, it's two innings and  pitches. It's a lot different. I can go out and do everything and feel good about myself when I'm done. I don't feel winded and tired and all that stuff."
Lester said his outing last October in Colorado that capped an emotional and inspirational return from cancer was not on his mind Saturday against the Twins.
"[With] the World Series, turn the page and move on," Lester said. "That was a year ago. Another year under my belt and hopefully we can put all that stuff behind me and behind everybody and just move on and be a normal pitcher. I know it's obviously going to be associated with my name for the rest of my life but I just want to push that back, not think about it and go out and pitch."
Mike Petraglia is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.