When Jon Lester was named the Opening Day starter for the Red Sox it had some wondering if he was ready to fully accept the designation as the club’s ‘ace.’ It was the second straight year that Lester was given the ball for game number one, making him the first left hander to open two consecutive years since Mel Parnell (1952-54, courtesy of the Boston Globe).
But Lester’s track record of pitching in April hasn’t flattered his career numbers. His career ERA in the month of April is 4.12, not including today, versus an all time mark of 3.52. Last season in Texas he gave up five runs on six hits in just 5.1 innings, again raising the question as to why he typically struggles in April.
Today’s outing proved that he may be turning the corner in the first month of the season and that he’s ready to step up and become the true, elite pitcher and leader of the Sox staff.
Lester was excellent in the opener, tossing seven innings, surrendering just one run on five hits. He walked three and fanned four and had great control in what were described as chilly conditions in Detroit; conditions that typically cause the southpaw grief, but not today.
The second round pick of the Red Sox in 2002 was one of the most embarrassed players after last year’s poor judgement and actions in September. Because of it Lester vowed to put it behind him and prove he’s ready to step up as a leader. Call it maturity from the 28-year old and today he backed up his words.
If this club is going to contend for the a postseason birth, Lester will need to be the true ace and leader of the staff. Josh Beckett has a chip on his shoulder after last season, but still brings baggage. Clay Buchholz still has to show the baseball world that he can stay healthy for a full season and produce to the level that he did in 2010 when he won 17 games. But it’s Lester’s team now and he led by example in his first start.
The good news is that the Red Sox won’t have to face Justin Verlander every game. The reigning Cy Young and AL MVP winner was just flat out that much better than Lester, which is remarkable. Still, a no decision for Lester is deemed acceptable, despite the club losing a heart breaker in the ninth. If he can pitch like he did today in the majority of his starts then Lester could take a run at 20 wins.
All in all, the performance from Lester was a sign that he has evolved into the leader and ace of a club that needs someone to step up.