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Jon Lester after six perfect innings: ‘This is me’

03.17.13 at 6:46 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Jon Lester has delivered steady, promising results all spring. But on Sunday, he showed another gear over the course of six perfect innings against the Rays in a 5-1 Red Sox Grapefruit League victory at JetBlue Park.

The left-hander struck out six and elicited four ground ball outs on a day when he showed good fastball command and an excellent curveball that he was able to throw for both called strikes and swings and misses, while also using his cutter on both sides of the plate. Lester made 79 pitches, of which 53 were strikes.

The necessary caveats, of course, are that spring results mean little in predicting how a player will do once the regular season begins. Still, Lester’s performance through five spring starts spanning 20 innings has been hard to ignore. He’s permitted just two runs (0.90 ERA) on six hits this spring while walking four (1.8 per nine innings) and striking out 16 (7.2 per nine).

But more important than the numbers has been the fact that Lester has looked more like himself on the mound — a pitcher who’s able to use his 6-foot-5 frame to create considerable downhill leverage with an over-the-top delivery that allows him both to locate the ball and to channel his power towards home plate, as opposed to last year, when his delivery would swing open and force him across his body, leading to diminished stuff.

This spring has been different. Lester looks like a pitcher who has fixed some of the mechanical issues that led to inconsistent stuff and results last year, and with a commitment to working faster, he’s also getting on the mound and attacking his opponents, keeping them on the defensive.

“His posture is getting better. He’s getting more angle on the ball. I know those are some things he’s working on,” said catcher David Ross. “I definitely see a consistent downhill plane on his ball when it gets flat it looks better to the hitter. His stuff is so good he can get away with it sometimes. But he will be more consistent and roll through the lineup and be a little easier, in my opinion, to get that good posture and get on a downhill plane. I think that’s the main thing he’s been working on.”

Again, spring results aren’t a great indicator of what a pitcher will bring to the regular season. It’s worth noting that last year, Josh Beckett had a 0.95 ERA and opponents hit just .117 against him in 19 innings.

Even so, given that Lester has been working diligently to address some of the bad habits that led to his challenging 2012 campaign, his ability to mow through opposing lineups has offered a sort of reinforcement to suggest that he’s back on the right track.

“Being able to see results helps,” said Lester. “When you’€™re working on things and you’€™re adjusting and making those changes, if you’€™re out there and getting your butt beat in, you don’€™t believe in them. It’€™s hard to buy into them. Kind of like last year in the month of July, we’€™re working on the same things I’€™m still working on now and not getting results. I had to buy into them. I had to throw the results out the window and just keep buying into them. My August and September were better. Now it’€™s the same thing. When you’€™re able to work on those things and see the results and see things getting better and see the late swings on fastballs in and see the takes on breaking balls, yeah, you’€™re able to walk away and go, ‘This stuff is really working. This is me.’ “

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