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Lester gets Opening Day nod for Red Sox

Boston Herald

March 27. 2013 9:25PM
Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Jon Lester (31) throws in the first inning during a spring training game. (USA Today)

FORT MYERS, Fla. - To the surprise of nobody, John Farrell just named Jon Lester as the Opening Day when the Sox take on the Yankees in the Bronx on Monday. Lester, who threw four innings of two-hit, shutout ball in his final tuneup Wednesday against the Marlins, has been on schedule to start the opener, but Farrell wanted to keep the spotlight off the decision and let Lester focus on his craft.

Lester has been sharp this spring. He has thrown 20 innings, allowing just two earned runs and six hits. In addition, he's struck out 16 while walking four. Opponents hit just .092 against him. At times, he's seemed dominant.

The Red Sox didn't want the Opening Day chatter "to be a focal point,'' said Farrell. "His work that was needed and the adjustments that he's continued to reinforce and repeat on the mound were the priorities. We felt like it was important to focus on the needs of spring training for every pitcher."

Farrell praised all the starters before zeroing in on Lester.

"I think what Jon has done, he's gotten back to a delivery that has been similar to his in the past," said Farrell. "I think he's executing pitches with the consistency as we've seen before, which made him one of the top left-handers in the game. He's had a very strong spring training."

Lester's performance certainly has put the team in an optimistic mood following Lester's worst year as a pro in 2012. Lester went 9-14 with a 4.82 ERA last season on the heels of a disastrous September of 2011. His performance mirrored the team's in what was a truly awful Red Sox season.

The team announced some cuts Wednesday. Catcher Ryan Lavarnway was optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket while right-handed pitchers Jose de la Torre and Anthony Carter were reassigned to minor league camp.

Bradleypalooza took a day off.

In fairness, so did the rest of the Red Sox, idle Tuesday for the final time during a spring training that has dragged on nearly two months. So, no, 22-year-old phenom Jackie Bradley Jr. didn't get the chance to spray two more hits, make another dazzling catch, don a superhero cape or do anything more to strengthen his already overwhelming case to be the Opening Day left fielder.

Surely, though, his name came up in the corridors of JetBlue Park.

With the clock ticking toward Sunday's 3 p.m. deadline for the Sox to submit their roster for Monday's opener at Yankee Stadium, manager John Farrell has engaged in "ongoing conversation" with general manager Ben Cherington and the front office. While most of the 25 spots are accounted for, they still must make a few decisions, Bradley's fate foremost among them.

"More than anything, we don't want to get down to the final day," Farrell said. "We want to do some planning - and allow the guys who do make the roster, give them a day or two to make their own plans."

Here, then, are the remaining questions before the Red Sox break camp Saturday night:

--Should Bradley start the season in the majors?

The most dominant story line in camp is nearing a resolution.

Then, the debate will begin.

Let there be no doubt that Bradley has earned a spot, not only on the Opening Day roster but also in the lineup against Yankees ace CC Sabathia. And considering David Ortiz will start the season on the disabled list, the Red Sox believe they can benefit from Bradley's superb outfield defense, sharp instincts on the bases and mature approach at the plate, especially with the first 13 games coming against AL East rivals.

But opponents of the Bradley-to-the-majors movement cite financial reasons for starting him in Triple A. If Bradley breaks camp with the Sox and isn't sent back to the minors for at least 20 games at some point during the season, he can become a free agent in 2018 rather than 2019. And losing one year of control over Bradley at a time when he figures to be in the prime of his career would be a significant sacrifice.

Over the past week, though, the Red Sox have seemed less concerned about that. After all, when Ortiz returns, they won't have a spot for Bradley, who could then be sent to Triple A. But if Bradley plays so well that he never returns to the minors, he presumably would be having a profoundly positive impact on the team's overall performance.

And the alternative is veteran Ryan Sweeney, an excellent defensive outfielder with decent on-base skills who nevertheless projects as a bench player and possesses far less upside than Bradley.

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