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Red Sox name Jon Lester Opening Day starter, Beckett gets home opener

03.19.12 at 10:12 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine confirmed today that left-hander Jon Lester will make the Opening Day start for the Red Sox when they face the Tigers in Detroit on April 5, opposing reigning AL Cy Young and MVP winner Justin Verlander, while Josh Beckett will follow him in the rotation and thus line up to start the Sox’ home opener at Fenway Park.

“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 or whatever. He thought Jon earned the job last year and didn’€™t do anything to lose it,” said Valentine, who said that the conversation with Beckett took place on Jan. 1. “I said, ‘€˜You have a lot more knowledge of Opening Day starters and mentality than I.’€™ I saw the health of both of them. I figured it’€™s an honor both ways, I think ‘€“ home opener and opener. So they’€™re both getting an honor.”

It is the second straight Opening Day start for Lester, who took a no-decision while tossing 5 1/3 innings and allowing five runs against the Rangers last year. Lester shook off that start to post his typical strong numbers for the year, going 15-9 with a 3.47 ERA in 191 2/3 innings and 31 starts for the Sox.

Since becoming a fixture in the Red Sox rotation in 2008, Lester has been one of the most consistent starters in the game. He is 65-32 with a 3.33 ERA while averaging 32 starts and 203 1/3 innings per season, striking out 8.7 batters per nine innings and issuing 3.2 walks per nine. He is one of three pitchers in the majors with at least 15 wins and an ERA of 3.50 or lower in each of the last four seasons, joining CC Sabathia and Roy Halladay in that achievement.

Lester’s .691 winning percentage (based on a 76-34 career record) is the third highest in major league history by a pitcher with at least 50 decisions. With 894 career strikeouts, Lester is also 150 punchouts away from breaking the franchise record for a left-hander, set by former Red Sox hurler Bruce Hurst.

Lester has made four starts thus far this spring, though just two in Grapefruit League games (he also pitched against Northeastern and in a “B” game against the Twins). In those two official starts, he has allowed three runs in eight innings on six hits while walking five and striking out three.

While Lester will get the start in the Sox’ first game of the year, Valentine said that Josh Beckett will start the second game of the season in Detroit on April 7 before starting the Sox’ home opener at Fenway Park on against the Rays on Friday, April 13.

Beckett had a 2011 season that ranked among the best of his career, as his 10th full big league season resulted new career standards in ERA (2.89, 5th in the AL), opponents’ batting average (.211, 3rd in the AL) and WHIP (1.03, 4th). Beckett also tied for the AL lead with seven scoreless starts. He was named to his third AL All-Star team.

The right-hander went 13-7, though his wins total easily could have neared 20. He was tied for the major league lead with six no-decisions in games in which he allowed one or fewer runs and eight no-decisions in which he yielded two or fewer runs. He cut his 5.78 ERA of 2010 in half, in the process producing the largest year-to-year ERA improvement in Red Sox history (min. 125 innings in each season).

However, a disappointing September somewhat marred Beckett’s season. He suffered a calf injury in a start against the Blue Jays on Sept. 5. After missing one start, he came back for what was, at the time, a significant win over the Rays on Sept. 16, but then allowed six runs in back-to-back starts against the Orioles on Sept. 21 and Sept. 26, suffering the losses in both contests.

That said, until that season-ending blip, Beckett was the Sox’ most dominant (and consistent) starter in 2011, leading the team in quality starts. And while he allowed six runs in his last two starts of the year, Beckett permitted five or fewer in each of his first 28, the longest such season-opening run by a Sox starter since 1928.

Beckett has made four Grapefruit League starts this spring, allowing two runs in 14 innings (1.29 ERA). He’s allowed six hits while walking five and striking out five. His innings total is tied for the third most in the majors this spring.

Valentine declined to say whether Clay Buchholz will be his Game 3 starter, noting that he’d prefer to wait until seeing the right-hander make it through his first five-inning start of the spring.

Read More: Jon Lester, Josh Beckett,
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