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red sox notebook

Jon Lester looks sharp in matchup with Cliff Lee

Jon Lester fired a pitch during the first inning on Saturday.

Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

Jon Lester fired a pitch during the first inning on Saturday.

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Jon Lester would have loved to preserve a few of his pitches after a shaky first inning yielded the Phillies a run, but for the most part, his marquee matchup against Phillies lefthander Cliff Lee went pretty smooth in a 4-1 Red Sox loss to the Phillies on Saturday night at Jet Blue Park.

Lester allowed one run on two hits, walked one, and struck out five. He threw 68 pitches over four innings and seems to be progressing well toward his Opening Day start.

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“It was good,” Lester said. “I was able to get up and down four times. I wish I could have preserved a few pitches so I could get into the fifth or sixth, but I was able to work on things.”

The biggest kick Lester got was watching Lee throw strikes and pitch fast.

“You find yourself sometimes trying to match his rhythm and tempo,” Lester said. “It’s one of those deals where he’s special because of that. It’s been his style for a long time. I’m not sure anyone can replicate it. It helps you speed up, too. Watching a guy like that throwing strikes makes you want to match that.”

Lester had a good cutter, saying, “It’s always a constant battle with fastball command. All in all, the biggest thing is getting up and down, getting the pitch count up and staying healthy. Just keep working on fastball command and everything else will take care of itself.”

Lester said he’s in a far different place than last season at this time when he was trying to focus on pitching on a downward plane and pounding the lower half of the strike zone with his newfound mechanics.

“Yeah, absolutely I’m in a better place than last year. Not going out there trying to worry about mechanics. It’s more of being back to being a pitcher and focusing on getting the hitter out or worrying about leg kick or where your hands are,” he said.

Denney will get help

The Red Sox have decided to help rather than release catcher Jon Denney, after he was arrested in an ugly incident with Lee County police early Thursday morning.

“We spent the last couple days gathering information and spending time with Jon trying to find out what happened and what needs to be done,” general manager Ben Cherington said about the 2013 third-round pick. “At this point, we’re in the middle of putting together a program for Jon to address things that we feel he needs to address. That will likely mean he’s not on the field for a while, and beyond that I can’t say anything else more than that at this time.

“We certainly take the incident seriously as we would with any other player. We’re trying to address his needs and help him in any way we can. But certainly he has some work to do.”

Denney, 19, initially was pulled over just before midnight in the Fort Myers Beach area when his black pickup truck was observed accelerating quickly through a stop sign, causing the truck to fishtail.

Denney produced a passport and an Arkansas license that was restricted for business and emergency purposes because of a previous DUI arrest.

Denney told police he was “partying” and called a friend to drive him home. Hours later, police saw Denney get back in his truck and drive out of a parking lot, when he was stopped again.

The Lee County police report indicated Denney started to “cuss at two officers.” Denney then said he was a Red Sox player and made more money than the officers would ever see. After being arrested at 4:06 a.m. and handcuffed, Denney allegedly said he would be freed quickly because he played for the Sox and made $3 million a year.

Police later determined Denney’s license was suspended and he was booked on a charge of knowingly driving while his license was revoked, a misdemeanor. He was released at 8:30 a.m. after posting a $500 bond. He faces a March 31 trial date. Denney, earned an $875,000 bonus out of Yukon (Okla.) High. He played in 26 games for the Rookie Gulf Coast League Red Sox last season, hitting .203. His salary is approximately $1,000 a month during the season.

The Red Sox have had three consecutive spring training driving incidents. Bobby Jenks (2012) and Drake Britton (2013) were charged with driving under the influence.

Victorino returns

Shane Victorino (thumb) returned to action Saturday night vs. his former team and went 0 for 3, but said afterward he felt fine . . . Farrell said Lester would face the Yankees next week in Fort Myers. Sometimes there’s a tendency to pull back a pitcher against a rival in spring training . . . Farrell said there is competition for the utility spot between Jonathan Herrera and Brock Holt. “Those two guys have the versatility, and as we’ve said before, the ability to play shortstop is the preference for that position. We’ve tried to get them both time on the left side of the infield because we know that both play second base very well,” the manager said . . . Despite Craig Breslow not having pitched in a game yet, Farrell said, “He’s still in position to be on time [for the start of the season]. We’re anticipating he’ll see hitters by the second half of this week.” Breslow pitched a lot last season and into the postseason and the team didn’t want to overload him in spring training. The team maintains he does not have an injury.

Bogaerts buildup

The Xander Bogaerts, shortstop, buildup is underway. “The work he’s done with Butter [coach Brian Butterfield], and to maintain the range he has, we feel very comfortable with him at shortstop,” Farrell said. Bogaerts has been a workout warrior. He’s taken many ground balls before, during, and sometimes after games. The Sox are trying to make sure he’s not burned out, but Bogaerts really has taken to the challenge and wants to prove he’s a major league shortstop . . . Third baseman Will Middlebrooks has taken a couple of days off after suffering a hyperextended right middle finger. He was not in the lineup Saturday night. Farrell said he expected Middlebrooks to be ready to go by Sunday vs. the Rays. Middlebrooks also has had an excellent camp, according to Farrell, who has been impressed with his work ethic, offense, and improvement at third. Middlebrooks believes his work with Butterfield has really paid off. “Is he a little crazy? Maybe he is,” Middlebrooks said playfully of Butterfield . . . Former Red Sox pitching coach Bob McClure has taken over those duties for the Phillies. He said so far Jonathan Papelbon has been throwing the ball well, but with not quite the velocity he once had. He said despite being fired midway through Bobby Valentine’s tenure in 2012, “I rooted like crazy for the Red Sox in the World Series.” . . . Former Boston College quarterback and Patriot Doug Flutie was on the field before the game. He had a long conversation with Butterfield, who is a Patriots fan and expert on the team.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Peter Abraham of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.
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