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Red Sox notebook

Lester gives a view to a thrill

Over illness, lefty wows in workout

Carl Crawford stole his first two bases of the spring, here beating the throw to Orioles third baseman Josh Bell. Carl Crawford stole his first two bases of the spring, here beating the throw to Orioles third baseman Josh Bell. (Charles Krupa/Associated Press)
By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / March 8, 2011

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Red Sox manager Terry Francona doesn’t get a good view of the pitcher from his perch in the dugout. From the side, it’s difficult to pick up the action on a breaking pitch or see how much a fastball moves in the strike zone.

So when Jon Lester went to the back field at City of Palms Park to throw a simulated game late yesterday morning, Francona parked himself behind the batting cage for one inning and then moved behind the mound.

From those vantage points, he saw exactly why Lester has become one of the best pitchers in baseball.

“You never really get to be that close to him when he’s pitching. His stuff is amazing,’’ Francona said. “That cutter and two-seamer, when you actually get to sit right behind the cage, it’s fun to watch.’’

Lester pitched three shutout innings to make up for missing a start on Sunday while recovering from the flu. He threw 46 pitches to Oscar Tejeda, Hector Luna, Che-Hsuan Lin, Ryan Lavarnway, and Nate Spears before tossing three extra pitches to finish his work for the day.

“Everything went well. Felt good, felt almost too good,’’ Lester said. “But everything is fine as far as physically.’’

Each batter started off with a 1-1 count. Lester had four walks, three in the first inning, and five strikeouts. He struck out the final three batters he faced, throwing pitches that had the minor leaguers shaking their heads.

“I like to try and take it as seriously as I can,’’ Lester said. “It’s just like anything else, you don’t want to go out and give up a bunch of hits and get whacked around all over the field. You’re still looking for results and positive things. I tried to take a lot out of it.’’

Tejeda had the only hit, a hard single up the middle that had Francona and pitching coach Curt Young hopping out of the way.

Lester will slot back into the rotation Friday and face the Twins. That keeps him lined up for Opening Day, although Francona has not announced his starter against the Rangers April 1.

Lackey delivers John Lackey gave up a leadoff single by Matt Angle in yesterday’s game against Baltimore, then retired the remaining 12 batters he faced. His efficient outing required only 39 pitches, 29 for strikes.

“I was happy with fastball location today, for sure,’’ said Lackey, who threw 16 pitches in the bullpen after he left the game. “It was a good step forward.’’

Lackey has a routine he follows in spring training. He has not yet thrown a cut fastball, an important pitch in his repertoire. He will start throwing them Saturday when he faces the Marlins.

“That’s OK with us,’’ Francona said. “We like guys to establish their fastball, arm strength, [and] arm speed before they start working on a cutter . . . Lack’s been doing this long enough to know [how] you get ready for the season.’’

After his outing, Lackey had a discussion with umpires Fieldin Culbreth and Mark Lollo regarding his use of the rosin bag.

“Nothing antagonistic, just asking him about it,’’ Francona said.

Not yet Miller’s time The Red Sox are excited about lefty Andrew Miller, who has four strikeouts without a walk in four innings this spring. But Francona dropped a heavy hint that the 25-year-old would start the season with Pawtucket.

“He came to spring training with the idea that he’s in competition for a bullpen slot with the idea that Opening Day isn’t the cutoff for him,’’ Francona said.

Francona said the reason the Sox signed Miller to a minor league contract was to not be “held hostage’’ to the idea of starting the season with him.

“We need to watch him pitch and see where it takes him,’’ the manager said.

“He’s been terrific about it. He’s been really mature about this [being] long-term.’’

First of many Carl Crawford is 3 for 6 in his last two games and yesterday stole his first two bases of the spring. “Hopefully that will happen a lot,’’ Francona said . . . The Sox won the game, 6-5, in the bottom of the ninth on a two-out RBI single by Yamaico Navarro . . . Daniel Nava, whose outfield skills are a work in progress, threw out a runner at the plate in the top of the ninth . . . Darnell McDonald sported a T-shirt that said “Dues Paid’’ on the front, appropriate for a player who spent 12 seasons in the minors before playing 117 games for the Sox last season . . . The Sox have a split-squad doubleheader today. Bench coach DeMarlo Hale will take a team to Jupiter to play the Marlins, and Francona will manage at home against the Astros. Houston assigned third baseman Chris Johnson to make the trip. He is the son of Sox coach Ron Johnson and was a standout at Bishop Verot High in Fort Myers.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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