SEATTLE -- While Kason Gabbard was preparing to make a start in the place he made his big-league debut last season, Washington native son Jon Lester was enduring one of the worst starts of his minor league career last night in Louisville, Ky.
Lester, passed over when the Red Sox were looking for someone to take Curt Schilling's place in the rotation after the righthander went on the disabled list, lasted just 4 1/3 innings, giving up eight earned runs on nine hits for Pawtucket in a 12-7 loss. Lester faced 26 batters and threw 100 pitches, 57 for strikes. He walked four and struck out four. His earned run average jumped from 2.49 to 3.78.
The easy conclusion to draw, of course, is that Lester was deflated by the fact that he had not been summoned by the big club. But he has not been dominating enough in recent starts for the PawSox to force Boston's hand, which was the admonition he'd received from general manager Theo Epstein, manager Terry Francona, and pitching coach John Farrell when they met with him at the end of his rehab assignment and he was optioned to Pawtucket.
Gabbard's performance in Pawtucket should underscore the fact that it is no fluke he is facing the Mariners tonight. He gave up two earned runs in each of his last four starts for the PawSox and overall he is 7-2 with a 3.24 ERA. Gabbard, who has had four elbow surgeries and was winless in his first three years in pro ball, was the ninth rookie pitcher summoned by the Sox last year and took the loss in a 5-2 defeat July 22 against the Mariners. He was lifted in the sixth inning of a 2-2 game but a third run was charged to him.
On May 20 this season, Gabbard was called up to make a start with Josh Beckett sidelined with a skin tear on his middle finger . He was charged with two earned runs in five innings plus, and was credited with the win in a 6-3 victory over the Braves. He was given no time to bask in the moment, however, as he was shipped out after the game to make room for a reliever, Manny Delcarmen.
"He looked like a crafty lefty, like a veteran," Sox shortstop Alex Cora said after that start. "He stayed focused and did a great job. It's not easy, especially if it's a one- shot [deal] to just come here and be a pro knowing the situation.
"At the end of the year, if he comes back, we know we can count on him. If he doesn't, you look back and he had a great start against the Braves and helped us win the series and keep this thing rolling."
Gabbard was not on the premises last night. Since he had not been officially activated, he stayed away from the ballpark (unless he bought a ticket and slipped in incognito).
To make room for Gabbard on the roster, the Sox sent outfielder David Murphy back to Pawtucket after last night's game. Murphy was announced as a pinch hitter for Julio Lugo in the eighth, marking his third appearance since joining the team Friday night in San Diego. He had his first big-league triple Saturday.
While the Sox have spoken with the Chicago White Sox about the availability of lefthander Mark Buehrle -- special assignment scout Allard Baird has been in Chicago and watched Buehrle pitch -- they are not close to making a deal, according to team sources. The Sox have no interest in parting with prospects such as outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and pitcher Clay Buchholz, the types of prospects White Sox GM Kenny Williams almost certainly would seek in return.
Word of Boston's interest in Buehrle is almost certain to accelerate the interest of other teams in need of pitching, and the Sox expect both the Yankees and Mets to be serious bidders.
Gordon Edes can be reached at email@example.com.