FORT MYERS, Fla. — The crowd of about 30 people who watched Red Sox ace Jon Lester pitch a minor league game on a windswept practice field Wednesday afternoon included his wife, Farrah, and two young sons, along with teammates Clay Buchholz and Jake Peavy.
“It’s harder when you don’t have a stadium and the crowd,” said Lester, who threw 94 pitches over six innings in his final game of spring training. “Biggest thing is [staying] healthy.”
The Red Sox were playing the Baltimore Orioles at JetBlue Park off in the distance, the same team Lester will face on Opening Day this Monday. So the decision was made to have the lefthander pitch for Single A Salem against the Fort Myers Twins of the Florida State League. He allowed one run on three hits with three walks and seven strikeouts.
The run scored in the first inning on a broken-bat single. Lester then retired 14 of the next 16 batters he faced, seven by strikeout.
Lester will be making his fourth consecutive Opening Day start, the longest streak for a Red Sox pitcher since Pedro Martinez started seven in a row from 1998-2004.
Lester will become one of six pitchers in team history (since 1914) to start four or more games on Opening Day, joining Martinez, Roger Clemens, Dennis Eckersley, Bill Monbouquette, and Mel Parnell.
“Any time that you’re given that right or given that honor, like I’ve said every year, it’s a huge honor to be able to do that, especially for this organization,” Lester said. “Each year is different, each year means a little bit more, a little bit less or whatever. The biggest thing is it’s just a huge honor.”
Lester said there were no updates on talks with the Red Sox on a contract extension. General manager Ben Cherington said earlier this week that he hoped the process would be resolved one way or another by Opening Day.
But Lester again said he would be willing to continue talks into the season if a deal was workable.
“If we’re close, we’ll carry it over,” he said. “I don’t think that’s a distraction. But things are nowhere near being done, that’s a good thing for both sides. You can come and say what needs to be said about it and put it on the back burner. I think it’s a positive we’re still talking.”
Lester took notice of Detroit starter Max Scherzer turning down an offer of six years and $144 million.
Lester is 30 and is 100-56 in his career with a 3.76 ERA. Scherzer is 29 and is 73-45 in his career with a 3.67 ERA. Lester has made 220 career starts and Scherzer 165.
“Personally, if that’s me, that’s hard to walk away from,” Lester said. “But he’s betting on himself. Maybe he really deep down wants to be a free agent. We don’t get to do it very often. Maybe that’s his ultimate thing. I don’t know.”
Pedroia ready to go
The Red Sox leave for Baltimore after the final out against the Twins Saturday. Clubhouse signage at JetBlue Park warns ballplayers to get stuff packed for trucks heading north, and there are fewer players in the room each day.
There’s a “last days of school” feel to the Sox camp, and like most of the veterans, Dustin Pedroia is ready to get on with the regular season.
“The last week and a half, you’re ready to get out and go play,’’ said Pedroia, who ripped a couple of singles and played three innings of a 5-4 loss to the Orioles. “It gets long, but obviously the pitchers need it to build up and get more endurance.’’
Any worries that fans are expecting too much of the 2014 Sox?
“Everyone has the talent to win our division,’’ he said. “But I don’t think about the other teams. I just worry about us.
“I felt good about us last year and we always have that feeling. We know if we’re playing our best baseball, we can beat anybody. We’re confident and excited to start.
“This is the time of year when everybody gets frustrated with spring training. We want to get going.’’
He was happy to see the front office lock up David Ortiz for another two or three years.
“David’s been a huge part of our success, with what he does on and off the field and the way he helps young players and the leadership he brings to our team,’’ said Pedroia. “We’re all thrilled to have him here for the rest of his career.’’
It’s impossible not to notice that Lester is going into his contract year.
“Obviously, everybody wants Jon here,” said Pedroia. “Look what he’s done in his career and what he did last year in the playoffs. We got one game to pitch, we want him to have the ball. Everyone wants Jon here for as long as he wants to play baseball.’’
How’s it been working with new shortstop Xander Bogaerts?
“He’s been awesome,’’ said Pedroia. “Really talented. The more games you play, the better you’re going to get.
“You can only talk about situations and go over plays so much. You’ve got to go through them. He’s putting the time and the work in and wanting to get better every day.
“Iggy [former keystone partner Jose Iglesias] had a ton of flash. Bogie’s a little bit taller and probably can range to more balls, but Iggy was smaller and quicker.
“He’s very mature. He doesn’t seem like he’s 21 years old. Sometimes, I have to remind myself he’s only 21 and not put too much on his plate.’’
Pedroia is batting .298 in the Grapefruit League. He says his surgically repaired left thumb is fully healed. He’s also happy to report that his wife, Kelli, is expecting their third baby boy this summer.
Duquette on hand
Orioles general manager Dan Duquette was at JetBlue. Twelve years ago, Duquette was fired from his position as Sox GM while he was staying at a hotel on Sanibel Island . . . The Sox will throw Lester, John Lackey, and Felix Doubront next week in Baltimore, which puts Peavy in line to pitch the Fenway opener a week from Friday against the Brewers. Buchholz will be the fifth starter for the first turn of the rotation . . . The Sox are still carrying 35 players, but manager John Farrell indicated that most of the players still to be cut would be informed Thursday, allowing that “center field might take another day.’’ Lefty Craig Breslow is expected to start the season at Pawtucket . . . Ortiz, batting .057, did not play in Wednesday’s game but took batting practice and watched film. Regarding Ortiz’s woes at the plate, Farrell said, “I’m not taking anything for granted, but I’m not overly concerned.” . . . Lefthander Chris Capuano pitched five innings for Single A Greenville and was close to perfect. He didn’t allow a hit, walked two, and struck out 10 . . . Daniel Nava played center field for six innings for Pawtucket in a game at the Minnesota complex. After seeing action in center in two games, Nava feels confident he can fill in there if needed. “Up until junior college, I played there all the time,” he said. “I know it’s completely different, but at least it’s not entirely foreign. Talking to Grady [Sizemore] has been very helpful.”
JonnyGomes provided his teammates with stars-and-stripes shorts last season. This year, it’s super-patriotic sports jackets. They are flashy and spectacular. One reporter’s suggestion was that Ortiz looks a little like Apollo Creed of “Rocky” fame in his star-spangled sportcoat . . . Speaking of Ortiz, there will be a Big Papi bobblehead night at Fenway April 7 (vs. Texas). Pedroia bobblehead night is April 30 (Tampa Bay), and Martinez bobblehead day is Sept. 7 (a Sunday, vs. Toronto) . . . The vaunted Chairman’s Cup is on the line over the next three days. The Sox are 1-2 vs. the Twins this spring, but wrap up with three straight against their Florida cousins, starting Thursday night. Having won the coveted Cup last year, the Sox need to win two of these last three to retain possession . . . Face in the crowd at JetBlue Wednesday: NESN hostage Jenny Dell. She gets to applaud now when Will Middlebrooks homers.