Talkin Sox with Dan

Where baseball fans gather for commonsensical, opinionated Red Sox banter.

Aces Up

I don’t care if it is July, September, October, December, or March–when one of my front line starting pitchers tosses a gem like Jon Lester did on Monday afternoon against the Phillies, I get excited. Maybe not as excited as Tim Tebow during his presser in New York yesterday, but still pretty damn excited.

Lester threw seven innings, allowed two hits, and struck out 10 batters. I first read that line at work and had to embarrassingly wipe up the puddle of drool that had accumulated on my desk.

And I hadn’t even gotten to the best part.

The tall left hander was especially thrifty yesterday in Clearwater, Fl. He needed only 88 pitches to get the job done. Lester did not give out a single free pass. He went to a three-ball count on one hitter. One.

Bobby Valentine certainly liked what he saw.

“I don’t have to describe it. You saw it. It was outstanding. That’s what he was aiming to do. The fact that he was ahead on the count, he was happy. He was throwing offspeed pitches down in the zone, his fastball explosive, that’s pretty good stuff.”

If Lester is able to replicate this type of performance consistently throughout the regular season, especially late in the year, he will finally elevate himself to the status of being a true ace. As I have written in the past, Lester is not an ace. Instead, he is a veteran pitcher who happens to be  starting the first game of the 2012 season.

Erik Bedard also shares that same honor in Pittsburgh.

The 28 year old Washington native needs to command his pitches during the regular season in the same fashion he did yesterday. When he is not throwing cutter after cutter after cutter, Lester can dominate a ballgame. However, he has exhibited a strong willingness to rely heavily on the aforementioned cutter, a lethal weapon when harnessed properly. A pitcher who leans heavily on a cut fastball is bound to hit a batter or three from time to time. It is not uncommon for Lester to put a few guys on first base by way of the walk or HBP during the course of a start. Naturally, this causes his pitch count to balloon earlier than anticipated. A true ace finishes his start by going seven solid or even pitching into the eighth inning on a consistent basis. Simply put, Lester has not been a horse.

Over the course of the past three seasons, CC Sabathia has averaged just shy of 235 innings per year. Sabathia, a Clydesdale, was in pinstripes all three of those seasons, facing the same cast of hitters that Lester opposes. Conversely, during those same three years, Lester averaged just south of 201 innings per season.

Lester is in the meaty part of his prime. Throughout the regular season, he will be expected to put up similar lines to the one he put up on Monday afternoon in Florida. As the season moves towards late August and September, the focus will be on the top half of the rotation to avenge the bed wetting performance put forth last year. Even if Lester is not a legitimate ace, he is the leader of a talented staff. It’s only March, but his performance yesterday offers a glimpse of what Red Sox followers could should see throughout the season.

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