Jon Lester has gone from cancer survivor to hot young pitcher, to the anchor of one of the strongest rotations in baseball.
The Red Sox left-hander and Bellarmine Prep grad is now being asked to mentor Casey Kelly, the team’s first pick in the 2008 draft, and other young pitchers in the organization — and it seems that everything is finally catching up to him.
“I don’t really look at myself like that,” said Lester, who turned 26 in January. “I still follow Josh (Beckett) around and I still try to do the same things he does in order to prepare because it works. So to be put in that group, it’s an honor.”
Joining the power-throwing Lester and Beckett in the rotation are Daisuke Matsuzaka, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz and possibly Tim Wakefield.
But it’s Lester who has evolved into the staff ace, going 31-14 in his first two full seasons after the cancer scare. He had a 3.41 ERA and a .242 batting average against, both fifth-best in the American League last year.
“Well, we all are,” Lester said when asked about being at the top of the rotation. “You guys can label us with whatever you want, but in my mind it takes five starters to win a championship, and that was proven back in ’07.
“It’s going to take all of us, all six of us the whole season.”
Lester got off to a slow start last season, going into June at 4-5 with a 5.65 ERA. But he was 11-3 the rest of the way, with a 2.35 ERA as Boston chased another postseason berth.
“It was just my time to struggle,” Lester said. “The more I look back on it, I didn’t do anything wrong. I made some bad pitches when I didn’t need to, had some bad innings.
“I did everything right until I let go of the pitch and the pitch just wasn’t executed. So there’s nothing that I can physically do in spring training — throw more pitches or throw less pitches or whatever it is — to prepare myself for that. I guess it’s just kind of one of those growing pains you kind of have to go through.”
Boston manager Terry Francona also couldn’t explain Lester’s early struggles.
“It’s not a lack of effort,” Francona said. “Beckett went through the same tribulations, trials, whatever, and Lester had a tough, what, six weeks. He didn’t feel very confident, and he’d make a pitch — it would be one of those things where he’d make a pitch, it was a ball. He’d make a pitch, it was a hit. And then things kind of snowballed.
“I don’t think he felt very good about himself. He felt good physically but he wasn’t being rewarded. And then he got on a roll and things kind of took off. Never slowed down.”
He should certainly be in a good frame of mind, if for no other reason than a trip to see his oncologists in November that resulted in good news.
“I was three years (cancer-free),” he said. “So get two more, hopefully, and then everything is good and we can just completely forget about it.”
Former University of Washington star Tim Lincecum received the biggest pay increase in salary arbitration as raises for players dropped back to their usual level after a sharp spike in 2009. Eligible for arbitration for the first time, Lincecum earned a 17-fold increase from $650,000 last year to an average of $11.5 million under a two-year contract with the Giants. That was by far the largest percentage hike for players in arbitration, according to a study by The Associated Press. … The Cubs beat Ryan Theriot in salary arbitration, and the shortstop will be paid $2.6 million this season instead of his request for a raise from $500,000 to $3.4 million. … Houston extended the contract of GM Ed Wade through 2012. … Brandon Webb says Dan Haren deserves to be Arizona’s opening day starter.