Despite reports that Jon Lester has already been handed the proverbial ball to be the starting pitcher in Game 1 of the American League Divisional Series, Red Sox manager Terry Francona said today he’s not ready to confirm that any decision has been made.
“We actually haven’t announced anything, we’re not ready to announce anything,” Francona said this afternoon during his weekly appearance on WEEI’s “The Dale and Holley Show.” I think it’s a little bit premature, because Lester hasn’t pitched [since Friday].
“[Josh] Beckett’s back acted up . . . we need to get our house in order, talk to our guys — and we’ve certainly talked to our guys about possibilities — but we haven’t announced anything, and when we do, we’ll let you know.”
As a matter of fact, given what happened in Lester’s start Friday night in New York, when he was drilled in the leg by a line drive, Francona said he feels fortunate that the Sox’ outstanding lefthander will be available at all.
“It was a bad feeling [when he got hit by the Melky Cabrera liner],” Francona said. “I’m not the quickest guy to get out there, but I saw it firsthand, I heard it firsthand, I heard his reaction when he was laying on the ground, he’s a tough kid, and I thought, ‘you know what, this kid broke his kneecap.’ And I really thought that was a possibility. In fact, he was so irritable, when he was coming off the field I was yapping at him about not putting weight on it because I thought there was a pretty decent chance that something was wrong.”
Fortunately for the Sox, Francona said his and the club’s fears were eased relatively quickly, and Lester should be no worse for the wear.
“They took him over real quick and got an X-ray. And many times when you get an X-ray, you’ll think, ‘OK, good, but we need to wait until tomorrow,'” Francona said. “But it came back so clean and so conclusive that, first of all, that was our first sigh of relief, and then we thought, ‘We’ll wait tomorrow because there’s going to be a ton of swelling and a horrible bruise. I think it caught enough meet of the meat or the muscle . . . and he’s a tough kid, and our medical people got on it, and he moved around.
“Yesterday, he actually threw a pretty long side [session], and we weren’t going to let him do that unless he was OK, so we really, really caught a break.”
Perhaps one reason Francona didn’t want to confirm that Lester is the Game 1 starter (with the certain opponent being the Los Angeles Angels) is because the Sox haven’t yet formally clinched a postseason berth. The club’s magic number is one entering tonight’s game with the Toronto Blue Jays.
The manager admitted that it is a delicate balance at the point of the season, trying to prepare for the playoffs while also taking care of business on the field.
“Regardless of who we play, we try to play the game right,” Francona said. “We are trying to accomplish several different things. One is not to lose sight of where we are. And I mean that in the negative and the positive. We don’t ever take for granted anything.
“At the same time, we take our team and try to best position ourselves to win, and we’ve got some things we need to take care of. Last night, it was [scratching] Beckett [from his start]. For us to pitch him last night wouldn’t have been in our best interests. It’s hard to do that, but it seemed to make sense to us. Giving Mikey Lowell a couple days off so he can have a better chance of being productive for hopefully what we think is a long run. And so we’re just trying to do things like that. Guys like [Jacoby Ellsbury, we’ve played him a lot. There’s got to be a point here in the next couple of days where we can give him a couple of days [off]. Same thing with [Dustin] Pedroia. We want to do what’s in everybody’s best interest.”
Francona was willing to talk about the Angels, admitting that the AL West champion’s aggressive style — particularly in terms of stealing bases — is a concern to the Sox.
“Always. That’s the way they play,” Francona said. “During the regular season, they’ve been very successful at times against us. During the playoffs, we’ve kept an eye on that. I think part of that is . . . you get into the playoffs, more often than not, you’ve got your 1, 2, and 3 [starters] going, they’re lower-scoring games, when you make outs they’re a little bit more glaring so they’re hesitant to do that. But for whatever reason, we’ve done a better job in the playoffs than we have during the regular season. We know we’re going to get tested . . . that’s part of their game.”
Francona also explained why the Red Sox don’t always put maximum emphasis on stopping the running game.
“I think what it is is that we do feel differently about certain situations,” he said. “There are times with two outs and a righthanded hitter up, we don’t care about a guy stealing third. You’re going to score on a basehit from second 98 of 100 times anyway. We don’t want our middle infielders cheating to hold the runner. We don’t want Mikey Lowell having to vacate third.
“We try to play to our strengths. We don’t pitch-out a lot. We think we have good pitching. When you play hunches, if you’re wrong, you put your pitcher in a worse spot. That’s just personal thinking. We don’t want people running on us, but at the same time, we don’t want people hitting three-run homers. A stolen base hurts less than a three-run homer.”