“Absolutely,” he said about being the ace. “That’s what I pitch for. I come here every year and want to be the best pitcher I can be. It’s nothing I’m going to call myself, but if the other four guys want to call me that and want me to be that guy, I want it.”
Lester took his first step toward that Sunday when he pitched two scoreless, hitless innings with one strikeout (against Carlos Beltran) in a 5-3 Red Sox win over the Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium.
Lester threw 24 pitches (17 strikes), a tidy six in the second inning. He threw a 93-mile-per-hour fastball past Beltran for his K.
The designation of "ace" or a leader of the staff seems on the surface relatively arbitrary and unimportant. What does it mean to lead a staff? It's not like being the opening day starter matters after three weeks, when various bye weeks, injuries, spot starts, or scheduling fluctuations cause every team's starting rotation to diverge. Jon Lester will not face CC Sabathia in each Yankees game this year; he could just as easily face anyone else.
That said, baseball players seem to make a big fuss over it. And the press, even more so. For the last three years there's been a consistent argument as to whether Lester or Beckett was the leader of the staff, and what the implications were to the rest of the pitchers.
This year might give us an indication as to how much this sort of thing matters. Gone is Beckett's "toxic" effect on the team -- even though his teammates all liked him -- and in his stead Lester stands as the "ace," while John Lackey is undergoing a relentless image overhaul in the press (serious question: did he hire an image consultant or PR rep?). If we see better performance staff-wide, look for there to be a lot of press talking about how important Lester's leadership is. And if we don't, expect to hear that Beckett poisoned the well and Lester's a jerk and Lackey is still chicken-and-beering. Maybe it's easier than discussing the on-the-field performance.
As to that, Lester looked good in his spring debut. I'm happiest to see the efficiency, with 24 pitches over two innings, and 17 of them being strikes. If there's anything I'd like to see from Red Sox pitching, it's aggressiveness. Pound the strike zone, make the hitters put it in play. (I'd feel even better about this if Jose Iglesias were the starting shortstop, but we've already touched on that a few thousand times.)
On page 2, from the present ace to the (possible) future ace.
Rubby De La Rosa meandered out of the away team’s shower and quietly dressed. He looks nothing like a former Dodgers Minor League Pitcher of the Year, nor does anything about his 5-foot-10, 205-pound frame imply he can throw a 100-mph fastball.
But it was the 23-year-old Dominican who caught the eye of Red Sox manager John Farrell in the Red Sox 5-3 win Sunday against the St. Louis Cardinals here in Jupiter. De La Rosa hit the 100-mph mark several times over his two flawless innings and needed only three pitches to close out Boston’s win in the ninth.
“Three pitches for strikes, confidence on the mound -- a lot of good things,” Farrell said of De La Rosa. “It’s electric stuff. Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, time will tell what role he settles into.”
ESPNBoston | De La Rosa impresses Farrell
I don't know which illness I am struck with more strongly, Xandermania or De La Rosa fever.
The Pedro-Rubby connection and comparisons never get old. The amazement over how hard he throws always brings a smile to my face. I can't get enough.
One cause for concern: Farrell's comment about his role. I hope this isn't a suggestion that they'll consider him for the bullpen. I worry that for such a hard thrower he would be excellent in the bullpen and cause the team to consider keeping him there. With such a high ceiling, they should set their sights on starting, and starting only.
Globe | Red Sox manager John Farrell decides to face the fire in Dunedin | Grapefruit League Games 3-4: Red Sox at Blue Jays; Red Sox at Rays | ESPNBoston | Red Sox 5, Cardinals 3 | Takeaways: Sox 5, Cards 3; Lester refreshed | Quick hits from Farrell | CSNNE | Lester's first spring start a sign 2012 is behind him | Ortiz still not cleared to run bases | Buchholz fine after two innings on Saturday | Herald | Napoli turns corner by running bases | Prime time for Pedey | Image