March 23, 2013

KEVIN THOMAS ON BASEBALL: Opening Day starter still a mystery

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jon Lester stood in front of a small group of reporters and the question naturally came up.

Has Lester heard what he's doing on April 1, the day the Red Sox open their 2013 season at Yankee Stadium?

"I have not. You guys know anything?" Lester joked. "I know we're in New York. I have not been told anything. I just know my schedule."

Does anyone believe that the schedule will not have Lester pitching on opening day?. He pitched Friday. He said he will pitch his last exhibition outing next Wednesday, on the normal four days' rest.

After four more days' rest, Lester will find himself ready to pitch on April 1. But Red Sox manger John Farrell has not announced the opening-day starter - always an honor bestowed on the staff's ace.

"I think he's just messing with you all," Lester said. "I just think he doesn't want to tell."

Instead of taking a two-hour bus ride Friday and facing a divisional opponent (the Blue Jays), Lester stayed back at the Red Sox complex and pitched in a minor league game, featuring Boston's and Minnesota's Triple-A teams.

Through 5 1/3 innings, Lester allowed four hits, two runs and one walk, while striking out seven. Lester threw 100 pitches, 59 for strikes.

He got in trouble in the fifth, giving up the two runs and recording only one out (the inning was stopped after Lester reached a certain number of pitches, a common occurrence in spring training minor league games).

"I struggled in that fifth inning, trying to do too much," Lester said. "It was good to have a long inning in the stretch and figure some things out."

Lester's next outing will be abbreviated to four innings as he gets ready for his first major league start of the season ... whenever that is.

DANIEL BARD pitched in a Double-A game. After giving up a broken bat single, he walked two batters to load the bases. Bard then struck out two batters and got two strikes on the next before hitting him.

Bard, whose fastball hit 96 mph, said he settled down after the first batters.

"I feel like I'm in such a better place (than last year)," Bard said. "The ball is coming out my hand well and my velocity is coming back up."

Bard is still expected to begin the year with Pawtucket.

DRAKE BRITTON confirmed that he is coming back to pitch for the Portland Sea Dogs.

Britton's status was unknown after his March 2 arrest for driving under the influence. But he has continued pitching and will join a strong Sea Dogs rotation.

"I'm working on my mechanics, my command, and attacking the strike zone with all my pitches on any count," said Britton who declined to talk about his legal troubles.

Britton, 23, made 16 starts for the Sea Dogs last year, going 4-7, with a 3.72 ERA.

Other members confirmed for the rotation are returnees Anthony Ranaudo and Brandon Workman. Matt Barnes and Keith Couch, both in Salem last year, are expected to complete the starting staff.

CHRIS HERNANDEZ was a stellar Sea Dogs starter last year. Now he is getting ready for Triple-A Pawtucket, having been sent down from the major league camp on Tuesday.

"I expected it sooner, so I guess it's a good thing that I hung around," Hernandez said. "I learned a lot."

Hernandez pitched an inning Wednesday against Double-A hitters to shake off the dust. He struck out one and walked one.

CUTS ARE STARTING to be made in the minor league camp. Two of the cuts, reported by soxprospects.com, are infielder Zach Gentile and catcher Adalberto Ibarra.

Gentile, 26, was a 5-foot-8 underdog, drafted in the 49th round in 2008. He played 41 games in Portland last year (batting .241).

Ibarra, 25, was an international free agent from Cuba. The Red Sox signed him for $750,000 in 2010, He batted .275 in 75 games for advanced Class A Salem last year but apparently did not fit into Boston's plans.

 

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