Red Sox manager Terry Francona announced today that Jon Lester has been recalled from Pawtucket and will start tomorrow night in Cleveland. Julian Tavarez is going to the bullpen. A roster move will be announced after the game. The easiest move available to the Sox would be to send Javier Lopez, who has options, back to Pawtucket.
Francona said that the time was right for Lester, the 23-year-old left-hander who will be returning to the Sox exactly a year after he pitched for the Sox in his home state of Washington. It was on the team’s second trip to Seattle, a month later, that Lester went to see an uncle who was a doctor, setting in motion the events that led to him being diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
But only someone without a pulse would look at this as solely a matter of numbers.
“We want to win games so bad,” Francona said, “But I can’t say there won’t be some emotion involved when he gets to take the mound. I think his folks are going to be there, which I’m sure for them will be extra special.
“I think talking to Jon, he just wants to win the game. I think he’s got that attitude, he’s already been through this enough and answered the questions, I’m sure he’ll have to answer them again, but he just wants to win baseball games. He’s pretty refreshing, pretty remarkable for a kid that age.”
Tavarez is available in the bullpen today. In his last five starts, Tavarez is 0-4 with a 7.71 ERA, giving up a staggering 41 hits and 10 walks in 23 1/3 innings.
Tavarez, of course, had been signed as a reliever when the Sox inked him to a two-year deal before the 2006 season. Last year, he went 2-4 with one save and a 4.71 ERA out of the pen, but had an up and down year. It started with a 10-game suspension because of his spring training fight with Joey Gathright, and by the time he came back, Francona was not inclined to use him in a late-inning role first projected for him. He finished on the upswing (1-1, 2.19 ERA in his last 11 relief appearances) before he was inserted in the rotation.
“He has a chance to really help us in the bullpen,” Francona said. “He’s the guy who can throw whenever you want, and if he’s pitching with success, gives us that other arm out there.”
Francona noted that Tavarez, for all his recent struggles, still had done pretty well in his first time through the opposition batting order, which suggests he may do well in relief.
The numbers bear him out. Tavarez was holding opposition hitters to a .201 average on their first plate appearance, over 100 percentage points higher second time through (.310), and nearly 200 percentage points higher (.386) the third time (or more).
While Francona insisted Tavarez’s performance was not the determining factor, Lester has not been dominant lately in Pawtucket. Overall, he is 4-5 with a 3.89 ERA in 14 starts. He is 3-1 with a 4.87 ERA (13 ER in 24 IP) in his last four decisions, going seven innings in two of them, including his last start, in which he held Ottawa to seven hits and three runs, walking three and striking out three. With runners in scoring position, teams have hit Lester hard: In 33 1/3 innings, he has allowed 28 earned runs on 28 hits, 16 walks while striking out 25.
Sox officials had said that Lester’s strikeout totals would be a good barometer of how he is advancing — coming into this season, he had averaged almost a strikeout per inning (376 K’s in 393 IP). But in his last 10 starts, he has not whiffed more than six in any outing, with 38 K’s in 55 IP.
What went into the decision to summon him back?
“So much did,” Francona said. “We’ve been staying up on this kid, I think it’s pretty evident, all year. Where we thought he was, what needed to happen, what’s best for him, what’s best for us. I think we got to a point where we thought this might be in his best interest and ours.
“It’ll be interesting to see how he does. We’re excited. We’ve had a lot of conversations with a lot of people, trying to do the right thing.”
Francona was asked if it was tough to separate the baseball from the emotion during the process.
“No, it wasn’t, we didn’t let it be, ever, or he would have been here three months ago. We never let that get away of our decisions. I wouldn’t apologize to be crazy about a kid like Lester. I would be crazy not to. We don’t ever let that get in the way of making decisions.”
Francona said there will be no pitch counts or limitations placed on Lester tomorrow night. In the Indians, Lester will be facing the team with the best home record in the AL (34-15) and one that ranks third in the league in runs scored, behind the Tigers and Yankees. The Indians are 18-13 against lefthanded starters this season.
Francona was vague on when he told Lester the news.
“I suppose yesterday,” Francona said when asked when Lester was told. “I’m not sure.”
Asked what Lester’s reaction was to the news, Francona said: “I sense it was, ‘OK.’ He’s not a typical 23 year old. He was, like, ready to pitch. Very businesslike. I don’t mean that in a negative way, because he’s always personable, but he was, ‘OK. I’m ready to go. Tell me what to do and when to be there, and I’ll be there.'”
When asked how they determined Lester was ready to be called up, Francona said he “didn’t see him pitch. You have to rely on the people who have seen him the most: RJ [Pawtucket manager Ron Johnson], Griff [pitching coach Mike Griffin], Ben [Cherington, VP, player personnel], Mike Hazen [director of player development], Theo to an extent, he’s seen him on the video and in person a couple of times and you look at reports and consistency, a lot of different factors. We’ve had a lot of good communication about this kid all year. We’ve stayed on top of him all year. And we feel like now is a good time to let him pitch.”
Francona suggested that Lester’s performance might have been impacted by his disappointment that he was in Pawtucket and not the big leagues.
“I think he had some frustrations while he was there,” Francona said. “He had to fight through wanting to be here and pitching there. I’m not saying that in a negative way. He just felt such a commitment that he needed to be here, helping us win, I think he sometimes had a problem doing his job there, showing some frustration. I think RJ had some talks with him about that, which is good.
“I think the clincher was probably, I don’t know if it was John Farrell or myself said, ‘If we’re 100 percent and don’t need Lester, should Lester be here?’ and he said, ‘Yes.’ That kind of clinches it for us.”
Lester worked out in Pawtucket this afternoon, then planned to drive up afterward and fly with the Sox to Cleveland.
(Last updated at 1:05 p.m.)