EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 10, 2009

Lester growing strength with each start

Associated Press

BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) — Jon Lester had much more to say about his changeup than he did about his future.

The left-hander threw 57 pitches in his third spring training start, and a makeshift Boston Red Sox lineup outslugged the Pittsburgh Pirates 15-14 yesterday in a 10-inning game that lasted 4 hours, 10 minutes.

Lester's outing came one day after Yahoo.com reported that he and the Red Sox had agreed to a $30 million, five-year contract extension with a $13 million club option for 2014, pending a physical today.

The Yahoo! Sports report cited an unidentified source close to the team. Lester, however, said no deal had been completed.

Asked if he was scheduled to take a physical, Lester replied: "I have no idea."

"I don't know what the schedule is the next couple days. I'm sure when they're ready to announce anything if there's anything to announce, they'll do it. So, I'll just show up and do what I'm told," he said.

Lester said there was no contract agreement pending, to his knowledge, but he would welcome the stability of a long-term deal.

"Oh yeah, I think anybody (would)," he said. "But now nothing is final and nothing is written in paper or written in stone. So, like I said, I just show up and do what I'm told and go where I'm told to go, and that's all I can worry about."

Lester overcame cancer to emerge as Boston's best starter last year, going 16-6 with a 3.21 ERA. He added a no-hitter against Kansas City to a resume that already included the clinching victory in Boston's 2007 World Series title.

The Red Sox signed 25-year-old second baseman Dustin Pedroia and first baseman Kevin Youkilis, who turns 30 on Sunday, to long-term deals this offseason. In December, Pedroia agreed to a $40.5 million, six-year contract. The next month, Youkilis got a $41 million, four-year deal.

"Anybody prefers that stability and that guaranteed money. So, like I said, I'm looking forward to it if we get it done. And like I said before, nothing's finalized and nothing's set in stone," said Lester, 25. "I'd be lying to you if I told you if it felt good or bad or whatever. But, if and when we sign on the dotted line you come ask me that same question, I'm going to let you know."

On the mound, Lester has been working on his changeup this spring, but he couldn't use it as much as he would have liked against the Pirates.

"It's come a long ways," Lester said. "I'm starting to feel a little bit more comfortable with it in different counts. But we're obviously out here to do well and play well and have good results. So I don't want to just go out and throw the changeup in any count and get behind guys and start walking guys and screwing around, more or less."

Lester lasted 21รขÑ3 innings, allowing four runs — one earned — and four hits. He struck out two and walked one.

"The good news was he got stretched out. He had to work a little bit," Boston manager Terry Francona said. "He continues to look strong. I think he threw two cutters today, so starting to incorporate that into what he's doing. But he looks fine."

Boston's lineup did not include a single position player who is expected to start on opening day. The Red Sox are short-handed because of injuries and the World Baseball Classic.

"It's been like that all spring," Francona said. "We've been short a few people. The lineup you see us use on the road is basically the same one we have at home. We can't bring Jacoby Ellsbury on every road trip."

The Red Sox sent 15 players, including Pedroia, Youkilis, Jason Bay and David Ortiz to the WBC. No major league team has more players in the tournament.

Josh Bard hit a three-run homer. Nick Green and Dusty Brown each had a solo shot.

Brad Wilkerson, a non-roster invitee who's competing for the fifth outfielder job, hit a grand slam off reliever Chris Bootcheck.

Pirates starter Tom Gorzelanny pitched two-plus innings, giving up five runs — four earned — and two hits, both of them homers.

"The results weren't there, but I feel pretty positive about the strides I made today," Gorzelanny said. "I'm tightening up mechanics."

Notes: Pirates OF prospect Jose Tabata, in his first game since recovering from a sore right shoulder, went 3-for-3 with two doubles and four RBIs. He ripped a two-run double in the ninth to tie it 14-all. ... Pirates RF Brandon Moss was diagnosed with a sprained right thumb, an injury he sustained Saturday. Moss will be out of action at least a week, but is expected to be ready for opening day. ... Mike Lowell will be Boston's designated hitter today against Baltimore. He's expected to start at third base Friday against the Yankees. ... RHP Brad Penny reported no ill effects after throwing a bullpen session Sunday. He might throw a simulated game this week at Boston's minor league camp.