Last week, Jon Lester decided he would fire up his teammates with a little home cooking. He took over the grill behind the team’s clubhouse at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Fla., and grilled enough ribs to feed the big-league roster.
The ribs didn’t last long.
Lester, on the other hand, has been lasting much longer than expected in most of his spring training starts.
On Sunday he looked downright dominant, going six perfect innings against the Rays.
We shouldn’t get too carried away with spring training results. We’ve seen plenty of players look like All-Stars in Florida only to struggle under the bright lights of regular-season games.
Yet, when it comes to Lester, it’s hard not to be encouraged by what we see this preseason. After five spring training starts he has logged 20 innings and posted a 0.90 ERA.
Great numbers, but this isn’t about statistics.
This is about the frame of mind for the most important member of the 2013 team.
Through early September 2011, Lester was putting together numbers that undoubtedly qualified him as an “ace.” He had a career ERA of 3.21 and an eye-popping .691 winning percentage (65-29.)
Then it all fell apart. He is 9-17 since the start of that infamous September collapse, with an ERA of 5.12.
Will the real Jon Lester please stand up?
The Red Sox are hoping he does. They know he has the tools to succeed, and believe he is the type of pitcher you build a rotation around.
Does Lester believe in himself? He certainly seems to.
“He pitched with a lot of confidence,” Manager John Farrell told reporters after Sunday’s outing.
Farrell still won’t say it officially, but Lester will undoubtedly be the team’s Opening Day starter for the third straight year. He’ll make two more starts in Florida before that, but no matter how he performs in those it has been a successful spring.
With Josh Beckett gone, Lester is the man setting the tone for the Red Sox rotation. He’s still only 29 years old and should be in his prime. He prefers to lead by example, and he has been setting high standards for his teammates with his work this spring.
His teammates appreciate it. Even more than they appreciated the BBQ feast he set up for them in the clubhouse. The ribs were spicy and sent Sox players scurrying for something to drink to cool off the fire.
Too hot to handle? Lester’s hoping anyone stepping up to the plate has trouble with his offerings in the regular season, too.
Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.