Lefthander wants to do right things
Lester plans to add leadership to game
FORT MYERS, Fla. - Jon Lester is a two-time All-Star, a World Series champion, and has a no-hitter on his résumé. By any measure, he is one of the best starting pitchers in the game.
But what he has not been for the Red Sox is a leader.
Lester, even in the best of times, blends into the background, content to let others have the spotlight. His personality is to say little and defer to others. There are times when just coaxing a smile out of Lester is impossible.
But the 28-year-old lefthander is vowing to change that. As the Sox shift away from the events of last season, Lester plans to be one of those showing the way.
“I want to try to,’’ he said yesterday as the Sox opened spring training at their new complex. “It’s something the guys in my age group have never really had to do because we’ve been around guys like [Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek] and had veteran guys who have been around a long time.
“We’ve just sat back and let them do their thing and kind of followed them. It’s time for us, and me, to step up and start to try and feel comfortable in that situation and do the best I can in there.’’
Wakefield retired last week and Varitek soon may do the same. Jonathan Papelbon fled Boston for Philadelphia via free agency.
Now only David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis, and Josh Beckett have been with the Red Sox longer than Lester, who made his debut in 2006.
Lester’s willingness to stand in the fire was evident three weeks after last season when he called a reporter from the Globe and admitted to drinking beer in the clubhouse during games. He promised then to improve as a teammate and take a greater role in setting the tone.
“I’m ready to move on from it,’’ he said. “I’ve learned from it. It’s something that I’m not proud of. The biggest thing is, especially from last year, is that you learn from your mistakes. I’m looking forward to starting new this year and trying to be that leader.’’
Lester’s actions are another sign of his commitment. He arrived here on Feb. 6 and has worked out nearly ever day since. Lester said getting to camp early long has been a part of his routine, but manager Bobby Valentine and pitching coach Bob McClure were impressed.
“It said a lot to me,’’ McClure said. “Here’s one of the best pitchers in the game and he’s here two weeks ahead of time. That makes my job easier.’’
Lester was 15-6 with a 2.93 earned run average in his first 27 starts of 2011. He was 0-3 with an 8.24 ERA in his last four starts with the team losing all four of the games as part of their historic collapse.
Those games haunted his offseason.
“Usually as soon as the season ends I go home, I don’t think about baseball,’’ Lester said. “I’m done and I move on and spend time with my family. We travel, we do that sort of thing. But it seemed to kind of linger in my head. I think that helped motivate me to get into the gym a little earlier and start getting the movement back for baseball.’’
On the field, Lester’s biggest goal is to get to 200 innings. His experience is that the other statistics will fall into place if he goes deep into games and makes all his starts.
The leadership aspect will come by being on the bench when he’s supposed to be, supporting his teammates, and taking even spring-training drills with a sense of purpose.
In his words, it’s part of being “a better presence.’’
Lester also realizes he has to play a role in repairing the rift with the fan base.
“I don’t blame them for being mad,’’ he said. “We stunk. I stunk. I take complete responsibility for that. With that being said, we’ve all learned from it. We’ve all moved on. I’m sure that’s going to be a big theme in spring training for a lot of guys.
“I think a lot of them think that we don’t care and we’re just a bunch of babies and whatever. We do care. We want to win and we want to get back to the playoffs and hopefully bring a World Series back to this town again and show the fans that we are a very good team.’’
If your perception of Lester changed because of last season, give him a chance. He wants to win you back.
“I’m still the same guy,’’ he said. “I’m still the same person I was five years ago. I care a lot about this team, I care a lot about this job. I hope the fans realize that [the clubhouse misconduct] had nothing to do with what happened on the field. What happened on the field happened on the field.
“Last year everyone wanted to give us the World Series title the first day. This year I think we come in the underdogs. I think that’s going to be fun. It’s going to be fun to see how guys react and how we go about our business.’’
Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.