Jon Lester to start Red Sox opener

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jon Lester may be blowing Josh Beckett's cover.

Lester, who was announced as Boston's Opening Day starter by manager Bobby Valentine on Monday morning, said he was appreciative of the fact that Beckett told the manager the left-hander should get the nod.

That was back on New Year's Day, Valentine said, when they met in Texas.

"Josh explained to me about starting pitchers and their Opening Day status or mentality or whatever," Valentine said. "He thought that Jon earned the job last year and didn't do anything to lose it.

"It was great information. It was like, 'Gosh, I'm glad I don't have to now worry about this throughout spring training.' So, maybe I was surprised, pleasantly surprised."

But people shouldn't be surprised by the gesture, said Lester, who is scheduled to face the Detroit Tigers in Comerica Park on April 5 and will be starting his second consecutive opener.

"It means a lot,'' Lester said of the Beckett stamp of approval. "It's nice to hear. Obviously, we're good friends and I know what he thinks of me as a person. But it's nice to hear him tell other people.

"I think that's what people don't see with Josh -- they think he's this ... stubborn guy that doesn't care. I think he cares more than people think about his teammates. Saying something like that means a lot.''

Lester said Valentine pulled him aside and told him a couple of days ago.

"I'm excited,'' said Lester. "Same as I was last year. Honored. It's nice to know you're the first one out of the gate.''

In his first Opening Day start last April, Lester was the losing pitcher in a 9-5 loss to the Rangers, the first of six straight losses sustained by the Red Sox to start the season.

Lester gave up three home runs to the Rangers that afternoon, the first time in 123 career starts he had yielded more than two. Ian Kinsler hit his second pitch of the game for a home run, Nelson Cruz went deep in the second, and Mike Napoli hit a three-run home run in the fourth.

Two months later, on June 18 at Fenway, Lester also gave up three home runs, all with the bases empty, in a 4-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers.

"I think the biggest thing is I didn't pitch well and we ran into a hot team,'' Lester said of last season's opener. "That series was ridiculous. They hit everything and hit it well. To add on top of that I didn't pitch well just made it worse.

"But I think my nerves will be a little more calm. The more times you do it, the more you're able to control your emotions. You obviously get wrapped up in that stuff and there are a lot of distractions. It's the first game, a lot of adrenaline. Yeah it's a tough thing to combat, but having that experience should make it a little easier this time.''

There is nothing easy, of course, about drawing Detroit's Justin Verlander, the American League Cy Young Award winner and Most Valuable Player, as the opposing pitcher in the opener.

"No,'' Lester joked when asked if he was looking forward to opposing Verlander. "I've always said before, I don't pitch against him, but at the same time going into the game you can't make too many mistakes. He obviously proved that last year and in his career. He's a great pitcher who doesn't make a lot of mistakes to good teams. It's going to be a battle. We'll ride it out and see what happens.''

The Tigers, who won the American League Central Division before falling to the Rangers in the playoffs, have added slugger Prince Fielder to a lineup that already features Miguel Cabrera, the American League batting champion who was one of two AL players with an OPS over 1.000 (Jose Bautista was at 1.056, Cabrera 1.033).

"I'm just glad Victor's not there,'' Lester said of former teammate Victor Martinez, who had season-ending knee surgery. "He wears me out.

"They did a great job of improving that lineup. It's an impressive lineup as it was before they got Prince, but the nice thing about pitching there in April is it's cold and in a big park. We'll see how far they can hit it. It's not going to travel too far.''

Lester will become the first left-hander to start consecutive openers for the Red Sox since Mel Parnell started three straight from 1952-54.

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.