For starter Lester, it was back to the grind
DETROIT - Unlike the Red Sox’ 2011 season opener in Texas, where he got cuffed around for five runs on six hits, including three home runs, Jon Lester never let things get out of whack.
He was fully focused in his second consecutive Opening Day assignment Thursday against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park.
Of course, having to oppose Justin Verlander, the reigning American League Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Award winner, can have that kind of effect. Lester matched Verlander pitch for pitch for seven innings and gave the Sox a chance to win.
It provided Lester with some small measure of satisfaction after the Sox suffered a 3-2 loss.
“Yeah, I mean, I kept the team in the game,’’ Lester said. “It was kind of a grind for me today. I didn’t really have a feel for my offspeed pitches early on. I was just trying to figure out ways to put guys away.
“It seemed like they really didn’t give me a chance early on because they were swinging. I was able to get a couple of double plays early on and, obviously, it helped me out.’’
Facing a formidable Tigers lineup that was bolstered by the acquisition of first baseman Prince Fielder, Lester successfully navigated the minefield of Detroit’s dangerous hitters.
Miguel Cabrera and Fielder, the Tigers’ Nos. 3 and 4 hitters, wound up going a combined 1 for 4 with three walks (all issued to Cabrera) and one strikeout (against Fielder, looking at a 92-mile-per-hour four-seam fastball in the fourth).
“They’re obviously very dangerous,’’ said Lester, who, while the game was scoreless, issued a one-out walk to Cabrera in the sixth, then induced Fielder into hitting a double-play grounder to shortstop Mike Aviles.
“You kind of have to pick your poison,’’ Lester said. “Really, with Cabrera I was just trying to throw a pitch so he could get himself out. Obviously, he’s a great hitter and that doesn’t always happen and that led to a couple of walks. But, yeah, I just had to bear down and try to execute pitches against those guys.’’
For the most part, in the eyes of manager Bobby Valentine, Lester succeeded.
“He gave us  pitches and, other than a couple of pitches he threw when he was ahead in the count, I thought they were all in command,’’ Valentine said. “His cutter worked inside, his two-seamer away. His curveball was breaking over for strikes. [He had] a couple of really close calls - damn.’’
Valentine was referring to the seventh inning when Lester gave up a two-out double to Jhonny Peralta and then just missed on a 93-m.p.h. four-seamer against Alex Avila that ran the count full.
“Aw, hell, I think everything’s a strike,’’ said Lester, when asked if he thought he had made the right pitch.
Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia signaled for time to visit with his pitcher.
Asked what was discussed during the conference, Lester replied, “Just our signs. I thought he called something different. When you have doubt like that, you want to make sure that you’re on the same page, especially in a situation like that.’’
With first base open, Lester challenged Avila with a 93-m.p.h. four-seamer. But this time the Tigers catcher made him pay, ripping an RBI double that eluded the outstretched glove of left fielder Cody Ross.
“It was 3-2 and I was just trying to make him put it in play and he put a good swing on it,’’ Lester said. “Sometimes that happens.’’
Was it the same pitch? “It was just a little more up,’’ Lester said. “He was able to kind of stay with it and he put a good swing on it.’’
Lester got Ramon Santiago to whiff at a changeup for his fourth and final strikeout, then turned it over to the bullpen, which gave up a run in the eighth and blew a 2-2 tie in the ninth.
Even though his team failed to win its opener, Lester succeeded in carrying over the solid work he had done in spring training.
“Yeah, absolutely,’’ he said. “Obviously, it was a little better than last year. Even though we lost, it was a confidence booster to go out and go pitch for pitch against a great guy [like Verlander]. So, in five days, I’ll go back out and try to do it again and try to build off this one.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.