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Spring Fortitude: Friday’s developments

02.20.10 at 6:24 am ET
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Jon Lester, John Lackey and Josh Beckett hit their collective stride on Friday. (AP)

Jon Lester, Jon Lackey and Josh Beckett will probably be photographed together on more than one occasion this spring. (AP)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Get ready to see pictures like the one on the right about a billion times over the next six weeks.

After the team’s pitchers and catchers took their physicals on Friday morning, the Red Sox’ three aces made their first joint appearances of the spring. John Lackey, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett — surely a pithy nickname awaits this trio, particularly given the common first initial of their first names — emerged at the minor-league training complex to play catch. Then, the threesome remained intact as they engaged in conditioning drills together. (For what it’s worth, there seems a decent chance that the season-opening rotation will fall in the same order as the pitchers concluded their initial shuttle run, with Beckett leading the pack and trailed by Lester and then Lackey.)

Clearly, the three pitchers represent a rare assembly of talent. The trio is expected to be the foundation for the Sox’ postseason ambitions, and with good reason. In 2009, Beckett (3.86), Lester (3.41) and Lackey (3.83) all finished with sub-4.00 ERAs. In the 10-year span from 2000-2009, just 15 American League teams had three starters who logged 162 innings with a sub-4.00 ERA. Of those 15 teams, 11 reached the postseason. (Also notable: all four of the teams that featured four qualifying starters with sub-4.00 ERAs made the playoffs.)

That being the case, it is hard not to be reminded of some of the elite rotations of recent years — the Braves of Smoltz, Glavine and Maddux come to mind as one such extreme example — while watching the interplay of the pitchers in activities as simple as a shuttle run. Whether those analogies are still drawn towards the end of the year remains to be seen.

–Newcomer Lackey is the owner of a shiny new five-year, $82.5 million deal. But the contract-related conversations on Friday focused instead on the status of Lester and Beckett.

Beckett, of course, is pitching in the $12.1 million option year of a three-year, $30 million deal that he signed for the 2007-09 seasons. Both Lester and manager Terry Francona discussed the role that Beckett plays as the leader of the pitching staff, and their hopes that it might prove possible to bring the right-hander back to Boston after this season.

As for Lester, the left-hander said that he did not feel any tinge of envy when watching Justin Verlander (five years, $80 million) and Felix Hernandez (five years, $78 million) — a pair of pitchers whose credentials he can closely match, and who have just one more year of service time than Lester — sign lucrative long-term deals. Lester may well have failed to maximize his earning potential when he signed a six-year, $30 million deal with the Sox last spring training that would appear to represent one of the biggest bargains in baseball. Yet Lester noted that long-term security at an early stage of his career had a different meaning for him than for Verlander and Hernandez.

“They don’t have my past so it’s hard to sit here and second guess what I did. Tomorrow I could go into the doctor and something could be wrong again and I could never play baseball. I’m 100 percent happy with what I did. I’m happy for them. it helps the game out. It keeps pushing that bar higher and higher. As far as me, I wouldn’t trade anything,” said Lester, referencing his status as a cancer survivor. “I’m happy with what I did and I wouldn’t change anything for anything. I’m happy with the deal I signed.”

–Lester said that he had a check-up with an oncologist in the last couple of weeks, and that he remains cancer-free. Now more than three years removed from being declared cancer-free, his schedule of check-ups — which had taken place twice a year over the last two years — will now shift to once every year.

“Hopefully we can keep going in that direction and in two years [when he has been cancer-free for five years], we’ll not have to talk about it anymore,” said Lester.

Lester downplayed any suggestions that he’s the staff ace, suggesting that he views such titles as irrelevant, and that he continues to view Beckett as the leader of the pack who sets the example for how to prepare oneself.

–A robust Jason Varitek was seen in Sox camp for the first time this spring. Lou Merloni reports that Varitek is 10 pounds heavier than he was at the start of last year’s spring training, with a body mass index of just 8-9 percent fat.

QUOTABLE

“Zero. Zero. I just know how he approaches things, I know how Theo approaches things, I’ve heard their communications. It’s not a concern.” — manager Terry Francona on how he expects a contract year to impact Josh Beckett in 2010.

THE INJURY WARD

Pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka took part in the team’s conditioning drills, an indication that the upper back strain that he incurred last Friday is indeed a minor issue. Following his check-up with team physician Dr. Thomas Gill, it would appear that Matsuzaka is getting close to resuming a throwing program. Francona said that the team hoped to have a throwing schedule for him as soon as Saturday.

–Starter Tim Wakefield was the lone pitcher in camp not to take part in the conditioning drills. Francona said that the 43-year-old is in good shape, but that his lower back surgery cut into roughly six weeks of his offseason workout program. As a result, the team is encouraging the knuckleballer to avoid feeling rushed this spring as he works his way back from the injury.

“He feels pretty good. The thing we encouraged in our meeting today, was his winter was a little bit cut short because of the surgery. We’re not looking for the quick fix, we’re looking for the long haul, because of how important he is to us,” said Francona. “We asked him to really communicate honestly with us. That was really the gist of our meeting with him. We don’t want to have an artificial deadline with him, it’s not in anybody’s best interest.”

Lou Merloni suggests that Wakefield “is already getting tired of being asked about his situation here in camp.”

NO MINOR DEVELOPMENTS

–Earlier this week, a coach teased catcher Luis Exposito about the shirt he was wearing on the field, which seemed too small for his massive frame. “Triple-XL,” Exposito said. “Biggest size they have.” Exposito weighed in at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds in his physical, an enormous frame for a catcher. He looks like a linebacker, though he was actually a defensive end in high school until his sophomore year, when his father convinced him to focus on baseball full time. Though his size is atypical for the position, Exposito gives reason to believe that he can stick at the position thanks to good footwork and quick hands.

In 2009, he suggests that he was able to continue to make strides in his work behind the plate. While he made technical strides in his receiving and footwork, Exposito cited another area as his biggest step forward in ’09.

“I think it was mostly the mental [side of the game], adjusting to the increase of scouting in Double A, how you have to work with the pitchers,” he said.

As for his strong offensive numbers in Portland (.337/.371/.489/.860) following a mid-year promotion, Exposito suggested that he was “not surprised, but it was not expected either. I work hard, and just went out there had fun. I let the results work themselves out.”

–Right-hander Kyle Weiland said that he learned the grip for his spike curveball as a college freshman at Notre Dame from former Yankees prospect Christian Parker, who made one career big-league appearance after being dealt from the Expos to the Yankees as part of the deal for Hideki Irabu. Parker was also a Notre Dame alum, and he also went to the same high school as Weiland (Eldorado High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico).

–Roving catching instructor Chad Epperson had his nose broken by a batting practice line drive that ricocheted off a poll. He is fine, and could return to the field as soon as today.

Check back on the Full Count blog throughout the day for updates, or follow the Twitter accounts of @bradfo, @loouu26, @trags and @alexspeier for the latest.

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