Jon Lester As Ace? The Job's Certainly Available

The memory is as fresh as if it happened yesterday.  Driving home from work in August 2011 listening to the Red Sox on WEEI on an evening when Jon Lester was dominating his opponent.  The team had shaken off a horrific April start and over the course of the next four months had arguably been the best team in baseball.

On the radio, Dave O'Brien and Joe Castiglione were  eloquently describing the terrific season Lester was putting together, how beating cancer and becoming a father had matured him, how his work ethic between starts was such that the other pitchers on the staff were looking to him as a role model.

We all know what happened after that.  August 2011 turned into September; September turned into 2012.  Jon Lester, who hadn't won fewer than 15 games since 2007, struggled to a very forgettable 9-14, 4.82 season.  He seemed angry most of the time, throwing his glove in the dugout, arguing with umpires when a pitch wasn't called to his liking, and losing any sense of poise and maturity it seemed he had gained up to that point of his career.  Most Red Sox fans are probably still trying to figure out just what went so wrong.  For his part, Lester went into the off-season confused and frustrated.

The return of John Farrell to the Red Sox dugout was greeted warmly by Lester on twitter, and when he showed up to Fort Myers a couple of weeks ago, there was a sense that Lester was more relaxed.  The 2012 scowl was replaced by...really?...a smile.


With Josh Beckett gone, Clay Buchholz still maturing, John Lackey coming back from Tommy John surgery, and a load of other question marks about the starting rotation, Jon Lester at age 29 has the opportunity in front of him to assume the role of ace on the pitching staff.  His scoreless 24-pitch 2-inning performance on Sunday was certainly a very demonstrative step in that direction.  He appeared relaxed, he had command of his fastball (17 of those 24 pitches were thrown for strikes), and in his post-game comments he inferred that pitching under the direction of John Farrell once again was going to help him both mechanically and mentally on the mound in 2013.

Jon Lester says he wants to be the ace of the staff.  If the Red Sox are to have any hope of competing in the American League East this season, someone is going to need to step up and lead the pitching staff.  The job is his for the taking. 

Jim Monaghan can be found on twitter @Monaghan21