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Lester slugs it out without his best stuff

Marco Scutaro receives a throw from Jason Varitek, nabbing the Royals’ Willie Bloomquist stealing in the first. Marco Scutaro receives a throw from Jason Varitek, nabbing the Royals’ Willie Bloomquist stealing in the first. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / May 31, 2010

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His numbers looked excellent. Jon Lester didn’t quite look as good on the mound. But it didn’t matter.

Despite running up his pitch count early in yesterday’s 8-1 win over the Royals, the Red Sox starter got through seven innings allowing only one run, enabling his team to split the four-game series with Kansas City. He allowed leadoff walks in each of the first two innings and a leadoff double in the third, only allowing one run, in the second.

And that was it.

“I didn’t think Lester was as powerful as he’d been,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “I thought early on, he looked — I don’t know if sluggish is the right word — in his delivery. But he had to fight for everything. Then, as he got into the game, he really started pitching. He allowed us to take some time to get our offense going. He used everything. I think sluggish is probably the best word, early. But he fought through it, and did a terrific job.’’

Lester is now 6-0 with a 1.43 ERA in his last eight starts, beginning April 23. He also went 6-0 last season over 11 games from July 25 to Sept. 19. In May, Lester went 5-0, the most wins he’s recorded in a month. Clay Buchholz also had five wins this month, the pair boosting the team back into the division race.

But it was even more impressive yesterday, as Lester didn’t have his dominant stuff against the Royals. He used what he had, and made it work.

“I had to make some adjustments, start pounding the zone a little earlier in the count,’’ he said. “It showed later in the game, got some quick outs. I was just a little off early on, overthrowing a little bit. Started to feel a little bit better as the game went on, still a little off. Just got to continue to work on it, stay over the rubber a little bit better.’’

After he walked Willie Bloomquist to open the game, Jason Varitek caught the left fielder stealing. It was yet another reminder how the Sox have better controlled their opponents’ running games.

“That’s kind of a deceiving stat,’’ Lester said. “You’re going to face guys like Carl Crawford 19 times a year, guys that can steal bags. Those guys are going to get their bags. Hopefully we can prevent them, but we’re not going to stop them. Tek did a good job today, and Victor [Martinez] has done a good job. But as a pitching staff we still need to continue to hold the ball, to mix our looks, and give them a chance. I don’t think a lot of times we’ve done that.

“A lot of pressure goes onto them because it’s their stat, but you still have to look at the pitching staff for holding the ball and varying our looks and making sure those guys don’t get good jumps.’’

Beckett in limbo
With the Sox having decided to slow down Josh Beckett as he comes back from a lower-back strain, that has left the starter feeling like he’s stuck. As he said yesterday, “It’s Groundhog Day right now. Just trying to get things better.’’

When asked if he’s frustrated, Beckett said, “I think I’m past the frustrating part. Just trying to figure things out. Everybody’s got to answer to somebody. Right now, they’re telling me what to do.’’

It’s unclear what Beckett will do next. He is planning on coming to Fenway Park on today’s day off to do some work, though he’s unsure what he’ll be allowed to do. He said that, from what he has been told, he has to be 100 percent today to even pick up a baseball. Short of that, he continues to do the cardio and strengthening work that has him in that Bill Murray vortex.

The injury has been difficult to predict because Beckett has felt good some days, and not so good others. The day before Friday’s side session, he felt fine. The next day, as he threw that session, it was not quite so good, leading to the inconsistencies in the repetition of Beckett’s delivery. That was what caused him to be slowed down.

Beckett did say the injury is purely muscular, that an MRI showed no structural damage. He said he is, essentially, day to day, though Francona thought they might have a better idea of his progression after today.

“Obviously using this time as wisely as we can,’’ Beckett said. “It’s not like we’re just sitting around. We definitely have cardio stuff — that’s what I’m saying. Groundhog Day, pretty much, just like the movie. Come in, you do the same thing every day. That’s why. You get past the frustration part pretty quick.’’

Pedroia sits
Dustin Pedroia got the day off, with Bill Hall playing second base. Pedroia is mired in a deep slump, having gone hitless in his last 13 at-bats. He is also 5 for 40 (.125) over his last 10 games. “Hopefully he can feel a little bit reenergized,’’ Francona said. “I think any time you want to maximize the day off. I think this is the best time to do it.’’ . . . Francona was asked who Pedroia compares to, in the manager’s experience, in terms of his all-around contribution to the team. “I don’t really do that,’’ Francona said. “I certainly appreciate what he does for our ball club. I think he has a league-wide reputation for playing the game right. I mean, [Derek] Jeter comes to mind, but I don’t sit around and think about stuff like that. Just don’t have that much time or energy to do that.’’ . . . Varitek hit his seventh home run in his 70th plate appearance of the year. It took him until his 126th plate appearance to hit seven homers last season, even though he was starting at the beginning of 2009. He now has 717 RBIs in his career, putting him 14th in club history . . . Because it was Memorial Day weekend, the Sox wore white caps with a flag emblazoned in the “B.’’ They weren’t favorites around the clubhouse. “I noticed today we have to wear those [expletive] hats,’’ Francona said. “Looks like we’re selling ice cream.’’

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.

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