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John Farrell hasn’t named Jon Lester Opening Day starter, but it seems to be just a matter of time

03.04.13 at 7:42 am ET
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One month from Monday, the Red Sox will be playing their first game of the 2013 season. Who will be their starting pitcher? John Farrell isn’t letting on ‘€¦ quite yet.

“I would guess every manager has his own style,” said the Red Sox manager, who named Ricky Romero his Opening Day starter on March 11 last spring training. “Having only been in position for two years to do it, I like to try and get through camp quite a ways just to make sure everyone is healthy and everyone is taking their normal turns. Once you get that foundation built, then everything falls in line.”

Thus far, 12 major league managers have identified their Opening Day starters. The lucky appointees are: Brett Anderson (Oakland), Jeff Samardzija (Cubs), Ian Kennedy (Arizona), Justin Masterson (Cleveland), Justin Verlander (Detroit), James Shields (Kansas City), Jered Weaver (Angels), Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers), Johan Santana (Mets), A.J. Burnett (Pirates), Matt Cain (Giants), R.A. Dickey (Toronto).

Masterson was named by new Indians (and former Red Sox) manager Terry Francona Feb. 26, which, using history as our guide, was downright late in the game compared to the last time Francona got a chance to tab his starter for the opener. That came in 2011, when he called Jon Lester during a mid-January hunting excursion to inform him of the news.

“That was cool,” Lester recalled. “It was kind of funny the way it happened. I’m in a tree stand, so I hit ignore thinking I”ll call him on the way home. But he calls me right back so I’m thinking the worse. I said ‘Tito, what do you want? I’m hunting.’ He says, ‘All right, I’ll let you go, but I just wanted to let you know you’re our Opening Day starter.'”

And while Farrell hasn’t committed, it appears as though Lester will become the first Red Sox pitcher to get the Opening Day start three years in a row since Pedro Martinez‘ seven-year run (1998-2004). Read between the lines ‘€¦

“Traditionally, it’s been an honor to be named Opening Day starter,” Farrell said. “There’s a few things that go into that. Certainly the health of everybody in the rotation. The given pitcher, has he earned it and what’s his status within the club? There’s not too many opportunities you’re able to be named Opening Day starter. It’s quite an honor.”

Should there be a notion that a pitcher has to lose the right?

“Once he has earned it, yeah,” the manager said.

Even Lester’s chief competitor for the honor, Clay Buchholz, is already deferring to his teammate.

‘€œJonny Lester should be the guy,’€ Buchholz said. ‘€œHe’€™s been the horse over the last four years for us. I don’€™t think you can go in any other direction with it. He’€™s just been our guy who has gone out there, who is a hard-throwing lefty, who had pretty special off-speed stuff. So I think that’€™s a good guy to have out there to set the tone for everybody else.’€

Lester has never downplayed the experience, even taking great pride in learning how to approach the big day. The first time he got the chance, in 2011 in Texas, the moment got the better of him, allowing five runs over 5 1/3 innings in the Red Sox’ loss. A year ago, he rebounded to turn in a stellar performance in Detroit, giving up just one run in seven innings.

“It’s a big deal. Don’t let anybody ever say it’s not a big deal, because it is a big deal,” he said. “At the same time, you have to always treat it as just a normal game, and I think I was able to do that a little bit better last year. The first year everything is new. It’s just like your first playoff game, where you think you have to do more because it’s a different part of the year and you’re fighting for something a little more important. You’re thinking, ‘I have to throw harder. I have to hit my spot better.’ You do the same thing you do during the season. All the simple things. It’s the same game. I think that’s what helped me last year.”

It doesn’t hurt that Lester has had some success in the venue where Opening Day will take place this season, Yankee Stadium.

In 13 starts, the lefty has gone 7-2 with a 3.46 ERA, having allowed a single run in each of his last appearances in the Bronx. He has never pitched an April game on the road against the Yankees, however, with his earliest New York outing coming on May 15, 2011.

Another sense of security the Red Sox should have in going with Lester — and why Farrell might be inching closer to an announcement — is the pitcher’s success thus far in spring training. He not only is offering the impression of the same overpowering pitcher witness for much of his career, but is also getting ace-like results.

“Obviously, it always goes back to being an honor, especially for this organization to do that,” Lester said. “It’s like I said that first day when we did the interviews — guys make you the leader, you don’t make yourself the leader. I think maybe given that to me ‘€¦ as far as them saying, ‘We want you to be the No. 1 guy out of the gate,’ that would be great. If I am, great. If I’m not, if it’s Day 2 or it’s Day 5, or whatever.

“When the manager comes up to you and says this is when you’re pitching and it happens to be on Opening Day, obviously it’s a big deal. It’s an honor and a privilege. But when it comes down to it, I just want to pitch. On Day 1 or Day 5, just give me the ball and we’ll go get them.”

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