Takeaways: Lester in good rhythm

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Takeaways from Clearwater, where the Boston Red Sox began a two-game "road trip" of sorts all tied up. After battling to a 2-2 tie in 10 innings with the Philadelphia Phillies Friday, many of the Sox contingent will travel I-4 to Disney to take on the Atlanta Braves in a Saturday afternoon contest.

Jon Lester tossed 81 pitches in his longest outing of the Grapefruit League, holding the Phillies scoreless over 5 ⅔ innings. Despite being unimpressed with his off-speed material, the left-hander came away from his third spring outing content with his overall progression.

"I felt like I got into a better rhythm today than I did the last time out," said Lester, who struck out five and walked one. "I still don't have too good of a feel for my breaking ball and my changeup, but that will come. All in all, I was happy with the fastball command, threw cutters to both sides. It was good."

Lester also liked being able to work in situational scenarios with runners on first and second, which occurred in the third and fourth innings.

"I was able to work out of situations the week before when I got a runner on and it was kind of weird," Lester said. "You just have to learn how to pitch with runners on all over again, pitch with guys on second base and the signs from the catcher, get back in the rhythm of the game, get in jams and get out of them. It was good."

With A.J. Pierzynski serving as his batterymate, the southpaw now must corral his off-speed pitches, even though he understands the fastball command dictates his success.

"I feel like last year I had a really good curveball early on and kind of lost the feel for it as the season progressed in June," Lester said. "I feel like my changeup got better as the season went on. But it starts with fastball command. If you're not around the zone, the other stuff doesn't matter anyways, so I have to throw fastballs to get swings at my cutter, so I'm happy with my fastball command and that's where it begins."

Lester has one more scheduled spring start, which falls on Wednesday -- a day when the Red Sox would face a split-squad from the Baltimore Orioles. Before the game, John Farrell insinuated that the starters, including Lester, would not face AL East opponents over a four-game stretch beginning Sunday.

Whether Lester faces a major league or minor league squad, Farrell believes the lefty is on pace to begin the season in a good way.

"I thought he used his fastball and his cutter effectively today," Farrell said. "There's still work to get the feel for his curveball and changeup, but I thought he went out and pitched, didn't overexert himself. Very good work for him. We'll continue to build, increase it the next time out. As a group, we're headed in the right direction as the opener nears."

Lester also was able to get a couple plate appearances with the Phillies forcing the Red Sox to use the NL rules. Lester was uninterested in swinging his first time up, looking at three straight strikes from Phillies starter Cliff Lee.

He then bunted when he saw the first fastball from Lee in his second at-bat. Lester laid down a relatively good bunt to third baseman Ronny Cedeno, who charged it and tossed out Lester at first.

"The plan was to either bunt or take," Lester said. "I actually talked to the catcher [Wil Nieves] and told him to throw straight fastballs because I'm not swinging."

JBJ report: Jackie Bradley Jr. went 0-for-4 with one strikeout. He is batting .182. He left two on base. He caught three fly balls in center, where he played for eight innings until being replaced by Shannon Wilkerson. Interestingly, though, the announcers on the Phillies' flagship station, CSN, kept using Bradley's name on three fly balls to Wilkerson while Bradley was in the clubhouse talking to reporters.

The dot, dot, dots: Will Middlebrooks went 1-for-4 and scored a run. He will travel with the team to Kissimmee to face the Braves. ... Pierzynski went 1-for-4 with a two-run double to left off Lee in the sixth inning. ... Andrew Miller came in as Lester's relief with two outs in the sixth, forcing Ryan Howard into a fly out to end the frame. The lefty walked a batter and allowed a single in the seventh before retiring Cedeno on a bunt. Brayan Villarreal came in and got out of the game by forcing the next batter into a double play. ... Edward Mujica, David Ortiz and David Ross all played in minor league games against Twins farmhands today at the Fenway South Player Development Complex. Mujica started the Double-A game and faced five batters (the last batter faced came after the third out of the inning). He tossed 15 pitches/11 strikes, allowing three hits while striking out one. Ortiz went 0-for-3. Ross spread five plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A, going 1-for-5 with a single and three strikeouts.