Lester talked about “a clean slate” and “starting at zero.” He talked about buying into what pitching coach Juan Nieves has preached all camp — speeding up his tempo, so he doesn’t overthink and obsess over every pitch. He’s tried to emphasize “pounding the lower half of the strike zone” and keeping the ball down in general. Those seem like the most basic things. So how does a pitcher with Lester’s ability get so off track?
It could be the five pitching coaches in four years. It could be the environment he pitched in last season. It could be all of those outside forces. But in the end, it comes down to him. He’s been a professional for a long time, who still owns a .639 winning percentage (85-48, 3.76 ERA). If there’s anyone to blame, Lester needs to look in the mirror and blame himself.
And he does.
The one thing we’ve seen from Lester in spring training is more accountability.
He finally understands how important he is to the success of this franchise. The No. 1 guy takes the pressure off everybody else in the rotation. He sets the tone. A successful No. 1 creates a healthy competition among the other spots in the rotation.
A strong Lester should make Clay Buchholz think — “I’m gonna go out there and match him. I’m gonna be even better.” That’s what a No. 1 does. That’s what Sabathia does with Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova. That’s what Verlander does with Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, and Max Scherzer.
Lester now has the chance to be that guy.
And for a team that won 69 games last year, the opportunity is there for the taking. Lester wants to be great. Whether having manager John Farrell and Nieves there to reinforce that ability is what it takes, it’s right in front of him.
The excitement of Jackie Bradley aside, a great year by Lester is what’s needed for the 2013 Sox to be in the hunt.