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Red Sox Notebook

Lester tosses a spring gem

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / March 27, 2012
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CLEARWATER, Fla. - Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine was about to let Jon Lester’s fine performance Monday in a 6-0 win over the Phillies speak for itself, but then he had to elaborate.

“I don’t have to describe it. You saw it,’’ said Valentine. Then the manager added, “It was outstanding. That’s what he was aiming to do. The fact that he was ahead on the count, he was happy. He was throwing offspeed pitches down in the zone, his fastball was explosive, that’s pretty good stuff.’’

Valentine would love to see each of his starters repeat Lester’s gem before the season starts.

Lester went seven innings, getting the win. He threw 90 pitches, allowing two hits with no walks and striking out 10. It was the top pitching performance of spring training for the Red Sox, authored by the team’s Opening Day starter.

“Felt pretty much the same as the last time,’’ Lester said. “I got the ball down in the zone a little more. When you’re able to do that, you get better results. That was the biggest thing early, establishing getting the ball down, and I was able to do that.’’

Lester went to only one three-ball count. He credited being able to throw his offspeed pitches down, including some breaking balls in the dirt that hitters offered at, for his stellar performance.

“That’s a big step in the right direction for me,’’ he said. “It’s huge. The more pitches a batter sees, the more comfortable they became, and the more predictable you get. The more three-pitch outs you get, the better.’’

Lester, who often relies too much on his cutter, said, “I threw some good curveballs today. I didn’t have to throw my cutter a lot today, and that’s a good thing.’’

Seems Lester is ready to face the Tigers’ Justin Verlander April 5 in Detroit.

Papelbon changeup Jonathan Papelbon said Monday that he didn’t mean to rip Boston fans when he said on a Philadelphia radio station that the difference between the cities is that “Boston fans are a little bit more hysterical when it comes to the game of baseball. The Philly fans tend to know the game a little better, being in the National League, you know, the way the game is played.’’

“I wasn’t trying to offend nobody, man,’’ said Papelbon, who left the Red Sox to sign a four-year, $50-million free agent deal with the Phillies in the offseason. “I was just calling a spade a spade. I’ve been in the bullpen down there many times in Boston to know this [fan] don’t have a clue what he’s talking about. It happens in Philadelphia, too. I’ve been in Philadelphia’s bullpen. I was just simply saying that, because the American League is different than the National League, there’s a little more thought process that goes along with that.’’

He said, “I knew it was going to be written that way’’ but he claimed that’s not the way he meant it.

He added, “I don’t really care. The fans who know me in Boston know I’m not going to start knocking Boston. I was just making a statement NL vs. AL.’’

Papelbon said he loved his time in Boston and said, “I had a phenomenal run there.’’

But he said the security of a four-year deal has been a boost for him.

“It’s a little bit more peaceful, a little bit more easier to go to work on a day-to-day basis knowing what you expect for the next four or five years here,’’ he said. Papelbon didn’t express any disappointment over not being made an offer by the Sox.

“No, not really,’’ he said. “I think it happened the way it happened. I wasn’t disappointed. It basically boiled down to whether or not they were going to. It was like, OK, when the offseason hit, it was I’m going to the first team that shows interest in me and I’m not looking back. You guys [the media] know me. I’m the guy that I go with what I think. I don’t look back. No regrets. Some stuff I may have done was stupid. But I’m not going to look back. And that’s the way I approached this offseason.’’

Valentine: No rift Valentine was asked about the perception of a rift or power struggle between him and general manager Ben Cherington.

CSNNE.com’s Sean McAdam recently reported that Valentine has told scouts from outside the organization that he prefers to have Jose Iglesias open the season as his starting shortstop but that the front office is in favor of Iglesias starting in Triple A. Also, Globe columnist Christopher L. Gasper wrote that “a wedge appears to be forming’’ between Valentine and Cherington on Iglesias and the best way to utilize Daniel Bard, as reliever or starter.

“I think it’s lazy journalism,’’ Valentine said. “That’s what I think. I think it’s an easy story to write. It has no validity. Absolutely none. I could have written it on Dec. 3. Are you kidding me?’’

Valentine said he communicates with Cherington “a few times a day.’’

In fact, there was a meeting between the two later Monday.

“There are some guys who are lazy and some guys who are clever,’’ he said. “It was a clever journalist that set that all up, too. It comes with the territory.’’

He said his relationship with Cherington is similar to his relationship with Tom Grieve in Texas.

“It’s dissimilar to my relationship with Joe McIlvaine [Mets]. Similar to Tom Grieve and early in my relationship with Steve [Phillips] in New York. When Steve became GM we had both been in the organization for three years. With Tom, he was there and I wasn’t. So there was a lot of sharing in what he had to do to get me caught up.’’

Job share opening up? Valentine said he has had a shared-job situation with his fifth starter before. He said he did it in Japan and may have done it in Texas. Valentine didn’t indicate whether he would contemplate that here . . . Kevin Youkilis took some swings against minor leaguers and reported his stiff back felt better. He made six plate appearances in at-bats with Pawtucket and Portland and went 3 for 4 with a double and two walks . . . Valentine has taken note of Cody Ross’s “nice swing.’’ Ross, Dustin Pedroia, and Mauro Gomez homered in Boston’s win over Philadelphia. Ross also made a nice play in the field. He chased down Freddy Galvis’s double in the left field corner and made a perfect relay throw to Iglesias, who gunned down Luis Montanez trying to score from second . . . Iglesias reached base three times with a fielder’s choice, single, and walk and once again looked smooth at shortstop . . . The Phillies pitched Joe Blanton, who is on the trade block. The team would pay $2 million of his $8 million salary. The Phillies are looking for an infielder, but wouldn’t mind a bat (Lars Anderson interests them) that could play first base while Ryan Howard is getting ready.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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