* It’s safe to say Lester hated 2012. Absolutely hated it. The 29-year-old lefty said as much after his two-inning, no-hit performance, during which he struck out one batter and threw only 24 pitches, 17 for strikes.
“I don't like going out every five days and getting my ass kicked,” Lester said, reflecting on 2012. “I like to win. I don't know if sucking sets you up for a good season. If it does, great, but I don't want to do it again. Last year we're sitting there beating our heads on the wall, asking, ‘What’s wrong? What’s wrong? What’s wrong?’ ”
That’s why Sunday’s start was a major steppingstone for Lester, who described 2010 -- when he finished 19-9 with a 3.25 ERA -- as the year he’s hoping to match this 2013 campaign. He spent the offseason reflecting, evaluating both his good and bad outings, and returns to spring training refreshed.
New Red Sox manager John Farrell and Lester both noticed some “clicks” in Lester’s delivery that set him off down the wrong path last season, particularly before the All-Star break. Lester, Farrell said, swung his lead leg “like a swinging gate,” with a collapsing backside. Those minor tweaks caused Lester to lose his downward angle, which helps with both pitch location and velocity, and his pitch deception.
“Last year wasn't off by much. Honestly it's a click,” Lester said. “That click can mean the difference of the angle. Your hand's underneath it as opposed to being on top. Cutter flattens out. Curveball's loopy. Just that click can make the biggest difference. We're trying to fine-tune those things.”
Lester threw 23 fastballs and one changeup on Sunday, coming close to his desired locations. Farrell called it a good start. But there’s work to do, Lester acknowledged, despite striking out Carlos Beltran and breezing through a six-pitch second inning.
“I want to get back to fastball command,” Lester said. “Although I had pretty good innings today, command wasn't exactly great, which is to be expected. The more fastballs you throw, the more arm strength you get.”
* Koji Uehara, signed as a free agent this offseason for $4.25 million, pitched a perfect third inning, striking out one. Andrew Miller got a scoreless inning in, giving up a hit. Junichi Tazawa also threw a scoreless inning, but gave up a walk and a hit. And Rubby De La Rosa, an intriguing 23-year-old Dominican prospect, threw attention-grabbing eighth and ninth innings.
Relievers Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan struggled, however. Hanrahan gave up one run on two hits in his fifth-inning appearance, including a Daniel Descalso home run. The righty Bailey allowed two runs on three hits, though he did get a strikeout.
“We showed good arm strength,” Farrell said. “Andrew Bailey’s thought process might be a little bit ahead of his execution and stuff right now, where he got beat with a couple two-strike fastballs that typically he’ll try to elevate. In terms of the physical stuff and our attack of the strike zone, it’s encouraging to date.”
* Still looking for utility players to give his team some bench depth, Farrell liked what he saw in both Daniel Nava and Pedro Ciriaco, who started at third base. The 24-year-old Ciriaco made a neat-looking back-handed stop on a hard groundball in the first inning, getting Cardinals second baseman Matt Carpenter at first. Then he drove in the game’s first run in the ensuing frame, ripping a single to center to score Mauro Gomez. Ciriaco finished with two RBIs.
“He makes well-above-average plays because of the athleticism,” Farrell said. “He’s an aggressive hitter at the plate, but that’s what works for him. Good baseball player.”
Nava, who batted .243 and spent significant time in left field in 88 games last season, played left field and went 2 for 3 on Sunday with a double. Both hits came on two-strike counts.
“That’s kind of been his trademark,” Farrell said. “He puts up a quality at-bat each time.”