Lester gets Opening Day nod for Red Sox
Southpaw supplants Beckett as Boston's season-opening starter
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- In the latest step in his progression to becoming one of the elite left-handed starters in the game, Jon Lester will make the first Opening Day start of his career on April 1, when the Red Sox face the defending American League-champion Texas Rangers in Arlington.
While it was a decision that many expected, Boston manager Terry Francona made it official a couple of hours before Lester's Grapefruit League start against the Braves on Wednesday.
Josh Beckett had started the previous two season openers for Boston, but he struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness in 2010.
"I really can't explain it any other way other than it's an honor to be named it," Lester said. "At the same time, if any of the other four guys had been named the Opening Day starter, it wouldn't have hurt my feelings. The talent and experience we have in this rotation, you can flip a coin. Anybody is worthy, and anybody, I'm sure, would be ready to take the ball on Opening Day."
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Though Lester has never pitched an opener before, he has plenty of experience pitching under the spotlight. He was the winning pitcher in clinching Game 4 of the 2007 World Series against the Rockies.
In 2008, Lester opened the postseason for the Red Sox by winning Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Angels. He pitched Game 7 of that year's AL Championship Series against the Rays, performing well but being outdueled by Matt Garza.
"It's an honor to be named the Opening Day starter," Lester said. "But I think pitching Game 1 of the playoffs is a little more important."
Lester was an All-Star for the first time last season. He finished 2009 with a 19-9 record and a 3.25 ERA. He has notched 225 strikeouts in each of the past two seasons.
He has been a machine over the past three years, averaging 17 wins, 207 1/3 innings and a 3.30 ERA.
Since entering the Major Leagues in 2006, Lester is 61-25 in 124 games, all but one of them starts.
"I think he deserves it," Francona said. "He has that stature in the game now where other teams probably look at him as No. 1. It's a big honor, but other than that, once we start, that kind of goes by the wayside."
Lester's rookie season came to an abrupt halt when he was diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma. After undergoing six chemotherapy treatments, Lester was declared cancer free in December 2006. He fired a no-hitter against the Kansas City Royals on May 19, 2008.
After being informed that he would get his first Opening Day start, Lester allowed the Braves three earned runs and eight hits in 4 2/3 innings. He allowed three consecutive singles to open his outing and three more singles in a two-run fifth inning.
Lester, who hadn't allowed a run in either of his previous two Grapefruit League starts, feels he is close to being ready to start the regular season. He will likely make two more starts during the exhibition season, and the last of those will likely consist of just a few innings.
"After my last start, I probably would have said one more and I would be ready," Lester said. "But after this one, I think one more and then we'll be ready to go. After that next one, I hope we can back off and then get ready for Opening Day."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.