Q&A with Jon Lester

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Here’s Jon Lester’s interview with the media from earlier today:

How long has he been looking forward to spring training? “It’s been a while. I think with the way everything ended, since that day. Obviously it leaves a bitter taste in everybody’s mouth and I’m definitely ready to get back and ready to go. It’s been a long winter. I’m excited to be here. Can’t beat being here. It’s an awesome place and they did a great job.”

How much did he think about his last few starts: “A lot. It’s one of those things I don’t think you’ll ever really forget. In baseball it seems like every year there’s something you never see before and that was one thing I’ve never really seen. Now that’s it’s over and we’re here and it’s a new season, a new start. I’m kind of glad a lot of these guys went through it; I’m glad I went through it. It’s going to make us better; it’s going to make us stronger to where we if we get in a situation like that when we’re not playing good we can reflect back on last year and September and realize we can get through this and we can learn from it and play better.

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On being more of a leader: “I want to try to. It’s something the guys in my age group have never really had to do because we’ve been around guys like Wake and Tek and had veteran guys who have been around a long time. We’ve just sat back and let them do their thing and kind of follow them. It’s time for us and me to step up and start to try and feel comfortable in that situation and do the best I can in there. Hopefully by me going out there pitching and doing the stuff I do in the weight room and in between starts young kids and see that and say, ‘All right, this is what I need to do.’ ”

On the clubhouse issues last year: “I think I did a pretty good job of covering that in November. I don’t’ think there’s anything else to talk about with it. The biggest thing is, myself, I’m ready to move on from it. I’ve learned from it. It’s something that I’m not proud of. The biggest thing is, especially from last year, is that you learn from your mistakes. I’m looking forward to starting new this year and trying to be that leader we were just talking about.”

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What specifically did he mean about learning from mistakes: “Just not doing it. Being a better teammate. Being on the bench. With that being said, the starting pitchers do have a lot of stuff to do in the game that we don’t get to before the game because position players are the priority. If we’re not pitching, we let them go first and we come in after the game starts and do some of the stuff that we need to do. Whatever that is as far as re-gen, getting with [the trainers] and doing some more arm stuff or some type of rehab or just maintenance. So we’re not going to be out there all nine innings but I’ll be out there more supporting my teammates.”

Why wasn’t the team mentally better last year? “I don’t think any of us had been through it. That’s the biggest learning curve, going through situations. When you go through them the first time, you’re naïve. We were all saying, ‘We’re going to be fine, we’re going to be fine.’ The mindset was we’re going to be in the playoffs. We’ll get there and when we get there, everybody’s going to come back and be healthy and ready to go. We stunk; I stunk and Tampa Bay was better. That’s basically how it was. Now you put that in your filing bank and just like your experiences in the World Series and playoffs and pitching in tight games and the Yankees series all year, you file those into your memory bank and when you get back in those situations, you draw from it and learn from it and know I’ve been in this situation and how to handle it.”

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How can he a better leader: “Just being a better teammates, a better presence. A guy like ‘Tek, if you ever really watched ‘Tek he didn’t say much. Just his presence is enough. I think going out here, we’ve got a lot of young kids in camp. Showing them the first bullpen means something; the first sprints mean something; that first groundball you take in PFPs is important. It sets the stones in for the season. That was something I learned my first spring training being around Schill and Josh and Wake and Timlin. Everything they did meant something. I think that’s important to try and instill in these young guys. Day 1 means just as much as Day 162.

How disappointed was he in his own performance in September: “Obviously it was disappointing. I kind of like starting bad and finishing good. I need to go back to that formula, it seemed to work better for me. But, yeah, it’s disappointing. It’s a crucial time of the year. I’m supposed to pitch good and I didn’t. I don’t know why. Physically it was September, I was fine. Just trying to grind through it. Just one of those things. It just wasn’t in our cards to be good in September. It stinks. It’s disappointing. Usually as soon as the season ends I go home, I don’t think about baseball. I’m done and I move on and spend time with my family. We travel; we do that sort of thing. But it seemed to kind of linger in my head. I think that helped motivate me to get into the gym a little earlier and start getting the movement back for baseball. That kind of added a little desire to this year, getting back and getting ready.”

Have he and Beckett discussed being better leaders: “No. He knows. We know. I can’t speak for him completely but I know we don’t need to sit down and have a heart-to-heart about anything. I think that we both know we need to do a better job and be on the field and be around these guys more. Instilling in these young guys that we do work hard; we do take this very seriously and we care. That’s the biggest thing, that we do care and we want to win.”

Did he know that there was anger among the fans: “There should be; we didn’t play very good. With all the other stuff added on top of that, it’s obviously going to make it worse. I don’t blame them for being mad … We stunk. I stunk. I take complete responsibility for that. With that being said, we’ve all learned from it. We’ve all moved on. I’m sure that’s going to be a big theme in spring training for a lot of guys. We’re moving on, we’re looking forward to 2012. That desire to really compete and really win and show the fans we do actually care. I think a lot of them think that we don’t care and we’re just of babies and whatever. We do care. We want to win and we want to get back to the playoffs and hopefully bring a World Series back to this town again and show thee fans that we are a very good team.”

How has it been talking to Valentine? “Really, in the offseason when I talked to Bobby it was, ‘Hey, how you doing? How’s the family? How’s your offseason going? Good. All right Nice talking to you.’ He’s not going to call me and talk about baseball. When we get down here I’m sure we’ll have some time to sit down and talk and go over some things. The offseason, you try not to talk about it a whole lot. You just try and be with your family and get away. I think he kind of respects that that and knows.”

How does he view the team: “Just like I did last year. We’re going to be good. With the exception of one month we were the best team in baseball. I think that says something. I think this year’s going to be a lot different. We do have a lot of new faces. But our core group is the same. I’m excited for it. I’m excited to get this going and get everybody down here and get to see everybody. Get the initial excitement to see everybody out of the way and get to work and start playing.”

Is there an adjustment from Francona to Valentine? “I don’t think so for me. Pitchers really don’t deal with the managers a whole lot. When we come in the clubhouse we see him, we say ‘hey.’ That’s really it. As far as the communication, it’s usually bunt plays and when he comes and takes the ball from you. Hopefully at the end of the game, if not later in the game. I don’t think for the pitchers there’s going to be any difference. Position players are going to have to learn a little bit different mentality. Hopefully it’s not a big transition. It seems like he’s slid in very nice right now.”

On Bob McClure being the third pitching coach in three years: “Bob’s done a great job. After he got hired, getting in touch with everybody and having good conversations and building that foundation before we get down here. When we get down here, it’s kind of a flawless transition. You’ve already had a relationship built and get an idea of what he’s thinking about certain things and you can just go right into working. He’s done a real good job of that.”

Did he come down early for a specific reason: “I’ve been getting down early since the first year I was allowed to in the minor leagues. I enjoy it. I’m pretty fair-skinned, so I need to get in the sun for a little while. No matter what you do in the offseason, you can’t simulate putting spikes on and standing in the grass and being around your teammates. When you’re around your teammates, you step it up a notch. It’s just kind of instinctive you do that. Those first two weeks for me are crucial. I get a lot of soreness out of the way. I feel I’m ahead of the curve come that first week. It’s something that works for me.”

Was he surprised to see so many pitchers here early: “Yeah, especially a lot of the younger guys. That’s a good step in the right direction for them. I hope they realize it helps and they continue to do that as part of their routine every year.”

Is there more pressure to get to 200 innings this year given the rotation issues: “No. That’s my goal every year. Regardless of what the staff looks like, I want to make 30 starts and hopefully with those 20 starts you get to 200 innings. Even though last year I think I was 8 short, it feels like a failure. I don’t think I go to where I needed to be. People always ask me what my goals are for the year. A lot that stuff you can’t control. But is one of the number goals that I have is 200 innings. The way I feel, if I’m able to pitch 200 innings, everything else will take care of itself. That’s a big number for me and something I always strive to get to every year.”

On handling the adversity last year and people getting a different perception of him: “I hope they don’t have a different perception of me. I’m still the same guy. I’m still the same person I was five years ago. I care a lot about this team; I care a lot about this job. I hope the fans realize that [the clubhouse misconduct] had nothing to do with what happened on the field. What happened on the field happened on the field. I stunk, we stunk and we’re looking forward to really kind of proving people wrong. Last year everyone wanted to give us the World Series title the first day. This year I think we come in the underdogs. I think that’s going to be fun. It’s going to be fun to see how guys react and how we go about our business.

“It weighed on me pretty good this offseason. I think it’s going to help me this year.”