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Lester to start on Opening Day for Red Sox

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  March 19, 2012 10:25 AM

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FORT MYERS, Fla. ó Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine announced today that Jon Lester would start on Opening Day against Detroit on April 5.

Lester will face defending American League Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander in the 1:05 p.m. game.

"Itís nice to know youíre the first one out of the gate," Lester said. "Itís always exciting. Itís nice to get the first one out of the way as soon as possible so you can build off of that."

Josh Beckett will start the home opener against the Rays on April 13.

Lester was 15-9 with a 3.47 earned run average last season. This will be his second consecutive Opening Day start. He allowed five runs on six hits in 5.1 innings against Texas on Opening Day last season but was not involved in the decision in a game the Red Sox lost 9-5.

"The No. 1 determinant was the conversation I had with Josh where Josh explained to me about starting pitchers and their Opening Day status or mentality or whatever and he thought Jon earned the job last year and didn't do anything to lose it," Valentine said.

"So I said, 'You have a lot more knowledge of Opening Day starters and their mentality than I.' I saw the health of both of them and I figured it's an honor both ways, I think. Home opener and opener. So they're both getting an honor."

That conversation came on Jan. 1 when Valentine visited Beckett in Texas.

"His work ethic and that he has had no setbacks at all in everything that he has been trying to do," said Valentine when asked when has impressed him about Lester.

Lester is 0-2, 5.89 in three starts against the Tigers in his career and has pitched just once at Comerica Park, giving up four runs over seven innings in 2010.

Lester last faced the Tigers on July 30, 2010, at Fenway Park.

Tigers slugger Prince Fielder, who was signed to a nine-year, $214 million deal on Jan. 25, is 1 for 3 against Lester with a strikeout and a walk. They faced each other last June 18 when Fielder was with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Lester is eager to face Verlander and the Tigers.

"I donít pitch against him. But at the same time, going into the game, you canít make too many mistakes. He obviously proved that last year, and in his career, that heís a great pitcher who doesnít make a lot of mistakes to good teams," the lefty said. "Itís going to be a battle, weíll grind it out and see what happens.

"They did a great job with improving that lineup. Itís an impressive lineup as it was before they got Prince. The nice thing about pitching there in April is that itís cold and itís a big park. Weíll see how far they can hit it. Itís not going to travel too well."

Valentine understands that for the starters, the Opening Day assignment is a big deal.

"It's a nice thing to plan and do," the manager said "I talked to the guy [Beckett] with the most experience and he brought it up in the conversation, so it's obviously a topic."

That Beckett backed Lester for the assignment made it easy for Valentine to decide.

"It was great information. It was like, 'Gosh, I'm glad I don't have to now worry about this throughout spring training and all that stuff.' Maybe I was surprised. Pleasantly surprised," Valentine said.

Said Lester: "It means a lot. Itís nice to hear. Obviously weíre good friends and I know what he thinks of me as a person. But itís nice to hear him tell other people. I think thatís what people donít see from Josh. They think heís kind of this hard ass stubborn guy that doesnít care and I think he cares more than people think about his teammates and saying something like that means a lot."

Lester said the experience of pitching on Opening Day in 2011 should help him this time around.

"Just the experience of it. You donít know what to expect until you do it and then when you do it, itís kind of like just a regular game," he said. "Thereís a lot of hoopla that goes into the pre-game stuff, which is awesome to be a part of, To stand on the side and watch it all is great. When youíre actually warming up, itís tough to enjoy. You have to focus on being in the game.

"Thatís the biggest thing, the experience of going through it. You learn something new every time you take the ball, every situation. Iíll take what I learned last year, whether good or bad, and try to apply it in a couple of weeks.Ē

With 17 days remaining until the season starts, the Red Sox have Lester, Beckett and Clay Buchholz lined up as their top three starters. The other two rotation spots are in flux.

Daniel Bard is the favorite for one spot with a number of pitchers ó Alfredo Aceves, Felix Doubront, Vicente Padilla and Aaron Cook ó competing for the other.

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