FORT MYERS, Fla. — Jon Lester has never been one who likes being defined by labels and that hasn’t changed even if the label is a compliment.
Many have anointed Lester the ace of this Red Sox staff after he got the nod to start Game 1 of the American League Division Series last season against the Angels.
One of the most intriguing — and fun — debates of spring training is who is the Sox No. 1 starter on a staff that boasts Lester, Josh Beckett and John Lackey? However, it’s a debate Lester wants no part of.
“Well, we all are. You guys can label us whatever you want, but in my mind it takes five starters to win a championship,” said Lester. “That was proven back in ’07 with different guys that took over those roles. It’s going to take all of us, all six of us the whole season, and hopefully we can all take our turns and all be healthy and get into the playoffs and have a good playoffs. But right now we’re focused on tomorrow and throwing bullpens and trying to stay healthy.”
While Lester, 26, had a stellar season last year, going 15-8 with a 3.41 ERA and 225 strikeouts, he struggled at the outset going 3-5 with a 6.07 ERA in his first 10 starts of the season. Lester said he hasn’t changed his routine this spring to try to guard against another slow start.
“There is nothing I could do. It was my time to struggle,” said Lester. “The more I look back on it I didn’t do anything wrong. I made some bad pitches when I didn’t need to. I had some bad innings that just crept up on me. My process was there, so that was the frustrating part. I did everything right until I let go of the pitch and the pitch just wasn’t executed. There is nothing that I can physically do in spring training to prepare myself for that.”
While Lester is locked up to a long-term deal (five years, $30 million) that runs through 2013, with a club option for 2014, Beckett is in the last year of his contract.
When asked about Beckett, Lester made a pitch for the Sox to re-sign him.
“I think it would definitely help out this organization, not only on the field, but off for however many years they sign him,” Lester said. “I can only speak for me because he has helped me out a lot. …The Red Sox have always been good about that. They’ve always brought in guys that are professional, do their work and go out and perform. I was very fortunate to be around a lot of veterans that did that and learned a lot of things from then. But I think it would be a huge loss for this organization for him not to comeback, obviously on the field a lot too, but definitely in the clubhouse it would be a guy missed in there.”
Lester’s didn’t dodge the Beckett contract talk, but he didn’t want to reveal his personal goals for this season.
“Win a World Series. For me baseball is a very, very hard sport to make personal goals,” Lester said. “You can’t sit down and say I want to win 20 games because you can’t control that. You have to go out and pitch well and stay healthy and the wins will come on this team. That’s something I learned the hard way last year. Early on I wanted to do better than the year before, and I went out there and tried to win a game in the first inning instead of just kicking along and doing the things I normally do and at the end of the game looking up and going, ‘Ok, we won.’ ”