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Curt Schilling on M&M: John Farrell the ‘best baseball man I’ve ever been around’ 04.02.13 at 2:05 pm ET
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Former Red Sox pitcher and current ESPN baseball analyst Curt Schilling checked in with Mut & Merloni on Tuesday to discuss the Red Sox’ Opening Day victory, Jon Lester‘s performance and Jackie Bradley Jr.

After a historically bad season in 2012 for Lester (9-14, 4.82 ERA), he got off to a very good start with a win on Monday. He battled through five innings of work, allowing two runs on five hits while striking out seven.

“I don’t know that I would feel any better about anything from that game than I felt about [Lester],” Schilling said. “I thought he had exceptional command. This was everything you hoped to see from Jon Lester at some point during the season. I didn’t expect to see it yesterday.”

In his major league debut, Bradley drew three walks and scored two runs. In his first at-bat, he quickly fell behind CC Sabathia, but in an impressive display of patience, he battled back to draw a walk.

“Everybody that I’ve talked to in baseball that has seen [Bradley] since high school, the one word everybody uses is presence,” Schilling said. “He has an amazing and a ‘game takeover’ presence, and I saw it yesterday. From the first at-bat, going 0-2 to walking, he saw 26 pitches in five at-bats against a left-hander that’s won Cy Youngs.”

One player who did not appear in the Red Sox lineup was designated hitter David Ortiz, who is nursing an injured heel. This was the first Sox Opening Day lineup that Ortiz was not in since 2003.

“I think David is going to be longer than people think, a lot longer than people think,” Schilling said. “I think [Bradley] is going to get a real good chance to let everybody know if he’s ready or not, and that’s truly the test, isn’t it? It’s not a series, it’s not a week, it’s 162-game season.”

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Ken Rosenthal on D&C: ‘Lot of things to like about’ Jackie Bradley Jr. at 10:31 am ET
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Fox senior baseball writer Ken Rosenthal checked in with Dennis & Callahan on Tuesday morning to discuss Jackie Bradley Jr.’s major league debut, the Red Sox‘ 8-2 Opening Day win over the Yankees and other early season baseball topics.

Although he did not record a hit, Bradley was impressive in his first major league game. He finished 0-for-2 with three walks, two runs scored and an RBI. He also made a terrific catch, robbing Robinson Cano of extra bases, and preventing the Yankees from getting their first run.

“He showed a maturity on the field that is rare for a player his age,” Rosenthal said. “Coming back from 0-2 against [CC] Sabathia, the catch he made in left field, because of course that’s a new position for him, even the baserunning. Obviously it’s just running hard, but it’s refreshing to see. So, there are a lot of things to like about him.”

After Jon Lester departed following five solid innings of work, the new and improved bullpen took over. The relievers combined for four shutout innings.

“I wrote about Bradley today but I was tempted not to because the bullpen and the way they deployed the bullpen was so impressive that it really intrigued me,” Rosenthal said. “The way they used [Andrew] Bailey for one hitter and then coming back with [Junichi] Tazawa, it showed the depth that they have. Now, it’s against a Yankees lineup that was basically a B lineup from Lakeland, Florida, in mid-March. But, at the same time, they do have weapons out there, and that obviously is a strength of the team and can be a real strength and a very effective strength even if the starters are not as good as we think.”

The last two seasons, the Sox got off to dreadful starts (0-6 in 2011 and 1-5 in 2012), so new manager John Farrell certainly is off to a better start. Rosenthal also discussed the improvements that the club has made, trying to focus on the clubhouse chemistry.

“Last year, obviously they had a lot of issues,” Rosenthal said. “I would have liked to have seen that team with John Farrell or Terry Francona as manager and see if we thought they were such bad guys. The problem to me was not the players. The problem was much more so [Bobby] Valentine and the mood that he set with that club. That said, there were some guys that perhaps could have been shinier lights, but no one thought of Carl Crawford as a bad guy in Tampa. No one thought of Adrian Gonzalez as a bad guy in San Diego, though very few people were paying attention. To me, the real issue is performance. If you have performance, then the rest will come.”

Only three players in Monday’s starting nine were in last season’s Opening Day lineup. One player who was missing Monday was David Ortiz, who has been working his way back from a heel injury.

“Yes, offense is down, but they need Ortiz back and this is why he’s so important to them,” Rosenthal said. “Their offense without him is not a slugging-type offense, for sure. While yesterday was quite effective, I don’t know that you’re going to see that all of the time. So, ultimately, let’s say that they’re in it and let’s say Ortiz comes back. You can go find somebody perhaps at the deadline, but you’re right, their offense is a concern to me.”

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Read More: David Ortiz, John Farrell, Jon Lester, Ken Rosenthal
Jon Lester’s performance wasn’t dominant, but it was plenty good enough 04.01.13 at 6:45 pm ET
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NEW YORK ‘€“ John Farrell described Jon Lester‘€™s outing as ‘€œa good starting point.’€ That, along with the Red Sox‘€™ 8-2 win over the Yankees Monday afternoon at Yankee Stadium, is good enough for the manager ‘€¦ and the pitcher.

‘€œIt’€™s big, obviously a lot nicer than last couple of years to be on top 1-0 instead of going through a whole road trip without a win again,’€ said Lester, citing the Red Sox’€™ 1-5 start to begin the 2012 season. ‘€œBig for us to come in here and, like I talked about yesterday, get on a roll and set the tone early for us.’€

Lester didn’€™t display the dominance of a spring training that included giving up just two earned runs in 24 regulation innings, striking out 20 and walking just four. But, other than a rocky, two-run fourth inning, the lefty did resemble the pitcher of 2008-2011, rather than ‘€™12.

The Red Sox’€™ starter finished his first outing of the season allowing two runs on five hits, striking out seven and walking two over five innings.

‘€œI felt good. I had good fastball command, good cutter today. Just really didn’€™t have anything else,’€ Lester said. ‘€œTook me until the fifth inning to get a feel for a curveball or a changeup, and just really had to battle with my fastball and cutter. With that being said, I’€™m really pleased with the outcome with those pitches. It was good.’€

Lester finished throwing 96 pitches (63 strikes), in large part due to a 34-pitch fourth inning. It was in that frame the lefty started showing some cracks.

The Yankees led off the fourth with a Kevin Youkilis double, with was followed with Vernon Wells’€™ walk. The hosts loaded the bases on Ichiro Suzuki‘€™s single. Then, after a Jayson Nix strikeout, Francisco Cervelli ripped a single down the left field line, plating a pair to cut the Red Sox’€™ lead in half.

To Lester’€™s credit, he came back and got Brett Gardner to line out to right field for the inning’€™s final out before getting two more strikeouts in a scoreless fifth.

‘€œWith the exception of that fourth inning, where he threw 34 pitches, I thought he came out and command the strike zone down,’€ Farrell said. ‘€œBut the lengthy inning, I thought, started to catch up to him a little bit, and after 96-plus pitches after five I felt like it was time to turn the game over to the bullpen. I thought Jon did bend, but didn’€™t break in that two-run inning. I think more than anything it was a good starting point for him.’€

Lester’€™s catcher, Jarrod Saltalmacchia, agreed with his manager’€™s assessment, stressing the importance of getting the team’€™s ace out on the right foot.

‘€œHe looked good,’€ Saltalamacchia said of Lester, who didn’€™t get a win in ‘€™12 until his fourth start of the season. ‘€œReal downward angle with his fastball, mixing in the offspeed stuff. Made some big pitches when he needed to. But all in all, just staying down, keeping it aggressive ‘€¦ and off balance.

‘€œI mean it’€™s important to all of us, not just Jon. We all feel for him. We all feel for what he’€™s been through the past year and we know that’€™s not him. We know that he’€™s the guy you saw today. It’€™s nice to see him out there just throwing like he always has.’€

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Monday’s Red Sox-Yankees matchups: Jon Lester vs. CC Sabathia at 8:53 am ET
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The pitching matchup could be any Red Sox-Yankees Opening Day from the last few years, but nearly everywhere else on the field, baseball’s most famous rivals are in unfamiliar situations as the 2013 season opens.

Jon Lester will get the ball on Opening Day for the third consecutive time, his first chance to redeem himself after posting a 4.82 ERA in 2012. He had a strong spring, with a 0.75 ERA and an 0.50 WHIP to show for it. In 24 innings, he struck out 20 batters and allowed eight hits and four walks.

Opposing Lester will be CC Sabathia, one of the only pieces of the Yankees roster that seems stable as the season begins. Sabathia recorded a 3.34 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP in 200 innings last year, the seventh time in his career and the fourth in a row that he’s thrown at least 200 innings.

Sabathia has had some kinks to work out this spring after having surgery in October to remove a bone spur from his left elbow. He pitched 10 innings, given up 14 hits and four walks while posting a 5.40 ERA. He’s said there are no concerns about lingering pain or issues with his elbow.

The team behind him will look very different than it did in October, as Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez all will miss Opening Day. The Yankees will lean on Robinson Cano, who’s heading into the final year of his contract in New York.

Lester might be relieved to avoid facing Jeter, who has a .333 average and a .397 OBP against him in 69 plate appearances. He’s more familiar with Jeter, Rodriguez, Teixeira and Granderson than the players who will take their places, so it’s harder to gauge how he might perform against the lineup he sees. In 13 starts against the Yankees in New York, he’s 7-2.

Last time Lester faced the Yankees, on Oct. 2, the Red Sox fell 4-3 when Raul Ibanez drove in the winning run in the bottom of the 12th inning. Lester went five innings, allowing eight hits and one unearned run.

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Jon Lester talks Opening Day start, successful spring training 03.27.13 at 4:07 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. ‘€“ After throwing four scoreless innings in his final spring training outing, Jon Lester relayed his excitement over being named Opening Day starter for a third straight season.

‘€œAll the words ‘€“ honor, privilege ‘€“ all of that, especially for this organization, to be named that,’€ he said. ‘€œI take it with great pride, and I’€™ll go out thee and give it a good start and hopefully get this team off to a good start this season.’€

With appearance against the Marlins at JetBlue Park Wednesday ‘€“ in which he allowed two hits while striking out four and not walking a batter ‘€“ Lester lowered his spring training ERA to 0.75.

It was has been two months of encouragement for the lefty, who talked about the specific alterations he has made from last season.

“Stand tall. It sounds simple. It really does. It sounds easy. For whatever reason, it morphed through 2011 into 2012, and I fell into some bad habits and couldn’t get myself out of them until the middle of last year,’€ he said. ‘€œI felt like we made a lot of adjustments, and that was the beginning to this year, right after the All-Star break, we finally overhauled everything and got back to being me, using my frame. I was pitching like a guy who was 5-10 as opposed to 6-4. It makes a big difference on the way the ball comes in the zone. Having good results, when you’re making adjustments like that, always help.

‘€œWhen you’re battling through some tough times and not getting results, it’s hard to buy into them, but I had to buy into it from day one and have been able to do that and get good results this spring.”

Lester finishes his spring having pitched a total of 30 innings (including one minor-league game), striking out 20 and walking four.

‘€œI think in spring, you could look at it both ways,’€ he said. ‘€œYou can look at is as, OK, I’€™m hitting my stride at the right time. I’€™m finally clicking and things are going good. Like I’€™ve said after each one, it’€™s good to have good results. It reinforces all the work you put into it and the adjustments and you see the swings at certain pitches and it’€™s like, ‘€˜Man, this is me.’€™ With that being said, there’€™s still going to be times where you get waffled. That’€™s just part of being a pitcher. I think those times will be few and far between.’€

While the solid start was nothing new, the revelation that Lester would be the starter on April 1 was.

It has been long assumed that Lester would be called on to make the Opening Day start. But it wasn’€™t until Wednesday morning that the suspense was cut short.

‘€œI had to get here a little early, earlier than normal for a start day,’€ he said. ‘€œ[Red Sox manager John Farrell] wanted to meet with me before he met with y’€™all. This morning. Officially. Finally. It was good.’€

Lester, who becomes the first Red Sox pitcher to start three straight openers since Pedro Martinez‘€™ run of seven straight, turned in a solid Opening Day outing against Detroit last season. The lefty only allowed one run over seven innings in the Red Sox’€™ loss.

The start against the Tigers was a vast improvement over his initial Opening Day appearance, in which he took the loss in Texas, having surrendered five runs over five innings.

‘€œThe hardest part of Opening Day, I would say, is just all the hoopla,’€ Lester said. ‘€œAll the stuff leading up to first pitch. Once the first pitch is there, it’€™s the same game. I think that goes back to guys first start in the playoffs, first start in the World Series. It’€™s just a lot of stuff that builds up to that first pitch. Once you get out there and the quicker you realize, OK, this is just like five days ago in Fort Myers, only it means something, the easier it is to kind of get through that. I think the first one was the hardest. Last year was a lot more normal as far as building up to a start for me.’€

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Jon Lester tabbed as Opening Day starter at 10:02 am ET
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As expected, Jon Lester was named to start Opening Day by Red Sox manager John Farrell. The manager made the announcement Wednesday morning at spring training in Fort Myers, Fla.

Lester will be followed in the rotation by Clay Buchholz, Ryan Dempster, Felix Doubront and John Lackey.

“He was probably targeted all along,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “But at the same time, didn’t want that to be a focal point. His work that was needed and the adjustments that he’s continued to reinforce and repeat on the mound were the priorities. We felt like it was important to focus on the needs of spring training for every pitcher.”

Lester will become the first Red Sox pitcher to start Opening Day three years in a row since Pedro Martinez started seven straight from 1998-2004.

Lester also spoke about the honor earlier this month and did not downplay it. He allowed one run over seven innings last year in Detroit, after giving up five runs in 5 1/3 innings vs. the Rangers the year before.

“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.”

The Red Sox open the 2013 season Monday at Yankee Stadium. Lester is 7-2 with a 3.46 ERA in the Bronx.

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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.” Read the rest of this entry »

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