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Jon Lester continues his dominant spring, A.J. Pierzynksi knocks in two as Red Sox tie Phils

03.21.14 at 4:21 pm ET
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Red Sox opening day starter Jon Lester has been nearly picture perfect  this spring. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Red Sox opening day starter Jon Lester has been nearly picture perfect this spring. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

CLEARWATER, Fla. — In many ways, it was the perfect outing for Jon Lester in what has been a nearly perfect spring training.

He retired the side in order in the first, worked out of jams in the third and fourth innings. And he batted twice without getting injured.

All in all, the lefty starter in line for the opening day nod in Baltimore accomplished what he wanted to in the next-to-last start before his March 31 assignment at Camden Yards in Baltimore.

Lester threw 5 2/3 scoreless innings, scattering four hits, allowing one walk while striking out five as the Red Sox tied the Phillies, 2-2, in a game called after 10 innings at Bright House Field. Lester lowered his spring ERA to 0.71 in five spring starts. Lester threw 81 pitches, 55 for strikes, right on pace with what manager John Farrell had hoped for entering Lester’s third start of the spring.

“I felt good,” Lester said. “I felt like I got into a rhythm a little bit earlier than I did last time. Still didn’t have too good of a feel for my breaking ball and my changeup but that’ll come. I was overthrowing a little bit on those pitches but all in all, I was happy with fastball command and threw some cutters to both sides so it was good.

“I don’t know what it says as far as velocity but I feel like it’s coming out pretty well right now, just continue to build the pitches up.”

Lester was held back at the start of spring training games by about a week after the heaviest workload of his career last season.

“I feel a lot better than I thought I would,” Lester said. “I feel like my offseason went well, as far as recovering and workouts and all that. I think unless you do it every single year you don’t know what to expect. It’s kind of wait-and-see game. You let them dictate the plan. So far, it’s worked out for me. I feel good and feel like l’m headed in the right direction. With that being said, it’s still a long season and you have to stay healthy for the whole season.”

Lester will finish his spring with a start against either a split squad of the Orioles at JetBlue Park next Wednesday or a minor league game. Either way, he and Farrell look to push his pitch count to 95 or 100 pitches.

“I thought he used his fastball and cutter very well,” Farrell said. “He worked to get the feel for his curveball and his changeup a little bit more. He went out and pitched. He didn’t overexert himself. He got to 80-plus pitches [and] that was the goal, and six times up and down. I thought an overall very good work day for him.”

Lester allowed singles in the second, third, fourth and fifth innings. In the second, he induced an inning-ending double play grounder. In the third and fourth, he had runners on first and second and worked out of both jams.

“I know last week, the first time I got a runner it was kind of weird,” Lester said. “You just have to learn how to pitch with runners on all over again, get used to a guy on second base, signs from the catcher. Just kind of getting back into the rhythm of the game and trying to save something for when those guys get in scoring position so you’re not gassed pitching with guys in scoring position. I think that’s just as important as going out there and working on your windup, your pitches and all that. You have to get in some jams and get out of them and sometimes give up runs and figure things out and go through the ups and downs of the game to continue to get better.”

A.J. Pierzynski, working his first season with Lester, had the duty of calling the game for the lefty.

“He was pretty good,” Pierzynski said. “The numbers speak for themselves. I know he was a little frustrated he walked a guy but other than that, he got some ground balls, weak contact. He made pitches when he had to. He was throwing strikes. You put him and Cliff Lee out there there, it’s usually going to be a pretty quick game and that’s how it went.”

“I didn’t know he was as competitive as he is. I kind of joked with him, he’s kind of got a little Peavy in him, he’s out there yelling at himself on the mound. It’s good. It’s good to see. When you’re that good and you care that much, it’s a nice attribute to have. You never fault a guy that cares and wants to get everybody out.”

There was even some comic relief as the Phillies forced the Red Sox to play without the DH since they did not send David Ortiz on the trip. Jon Lester went to the plate twice against Phillies ace Cliff Lee. The first time, he turned to the dugout for directions and then told Phillies catcher Wil Nieves he was just going to take three pitches. Lee struck him out on three down the middle. The next time, he bunted the first pitch back to Lee.

“At least I got it down,” Lester said. “The plan was if people were on, I was supposed to bunt. If nobody was on, I was just going to take. I just didn’t want to do what I did the first time. I felt I could do it in less pitches.”

While the pitching continues to look sharp and deep in quality, the same cannot be said for the bats.

The Red Sox again struggled on Friday, managing just a Mike Carp two-out double off the center field wall in the second while being held scoreless over the first five innings by Lee. Jonny Gomes worked a two-out walk in the sixth, which was followed by a single to right by Will Middlebrooks.

Pierzynski, batting cleanup, followed with an opposite-field double to left that missed leaving the park by a matter of five feet. The double scored Gomes and Middlebrooks with the first two runs of the day, giving the Red Sox a 2-0 lead.

Middlebrooks did commit his second error in three games when he allowed an in-between hop off the bat of John Mayberry, Jr. to play him and scoot into left field.

The Red Sox faced their former closer Jonathan Papelbon in the seventh. Carp struck out before Jonathan Herrera singled to center. Corey Brown worked a two-out walk before Jackie Bradley Jr. struck out swinging. Pierzynski, Bradley, Carp, Jonathan Herrera and Middlebrooks were four Red Sox players

The Phillies tied the game in the eighth with two runs thanks to a brutally hard infield that nearly resulted in Herrera, starting at short, taking a grounder in the face.

“We just played the elements,” Farrell joked afterward.

Read More: A.J. Pierzynski, Boston Red Sox, Jon Lester. Will Middlebrooks, MLB
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