Lester seems to have shaken April blues

Updated: April 29, 2010, 1:36 PM ET
By Allan Ryan | Special to ESPNBoston.com

TORONTO -- Before Wednesday's game, Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona was, once again, talking up his, thus far, spotty rotation.

He'd be vastly entitled, given the track record of the guys in question.

But still, this would be a rotation with the combined ERA of 5.27, 13th in the AL, better only than the Tigers' 5.56. And this was after Clay Buchholz's Tuesday night nugget in a 2-1 win over the Blue Jays.

And, of course, before the Sox rode seven innings of powerful 11-strikeout, one-hit ball from Jon Lester to a 2-0 triumph and series sweep, their fifth win in six games.

Lester
Lester

Before the game, based on Buchholz's effort, Francona found himself steered toward the glass being half-full/half-empty thing. "It certainly looks more full," he conceded. "If you're trying to look at it as half-full, I'm all for that."

Francona didn't revisit the analogy postgame but, if this keeps up, the man's going to be spilling something soon.

Of Lester, Francona said, "He pitched great. He ought to feel good about himself. Whether he misses or doesn't, he comes back with the pitch he wants to make. That's the guy we know."

Just like, as Francona had suggested beforehand, the real Josh Beckett (he of the unsightly 7.22 ERA) and the real John Lackey (5.09) are somewhere around the corner.

"Josh went out and had a good side [session Wednesday]," said Francona. "He's been through this before. In the midst of all the, maybe, panic in Boston, we know he'll figure it out. Lackey, Lester, as long as they're healthy, we've got to keep running them out there. They'll figure it out."

Fact is, Lester, notoriously sluggish in April, looked like he was onto something his previous outing when he four-hit the Orioles through 5 2/3 scoreless innings. He left with a 3-0 lead but the Orioles tied it in the eighth before Sox prevailed 4-3.

Still, going into Wednesday, he'd been 2-6 with a 5.12 ERA in 16 April starts (one actually in March); 40-12 and 3.50 the rest of the way.

"I don't know. Just the way it goes, I guess," Lester said. "I try to go out every start -- April, whatever -- expecting I've got a clean slate, but that's the way the numbers break."

Lester was asked if he could appreciate Francona's reference to the "panic" in Boston.

"Absolutely," he said. "That's Boston. They want to win every game, and when you don't win every game, something's wrong. If we're not winning, fans want us to fix it. That's the way they are and that's great. At the same time, they have to realize it's April and guys are going to go through some ups and downs early on. The good teams and the good players are able to minimize that as best they can and keep plugging.

"That's what makes baseball special," Lester continued. "It's a grind the whole six or seven months, sometimes eight if you go the whole way. It's a real roller coaster, but the best teams don't ride that roller coaster to where you're diving off a cliff."

Someone suggested the word "survival" might apply to the Sox's nearly complete opening month.

"Probably a good word," said Francona. "We're trying but not everything has gone right, that's for sure. But we've continued to play and that's helped us through some difficulties. We get to take a deep breath [Thursday] and, hopefully, take this and go from here."

After an off-day in Baltimore, the weekend assignments go to Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Beckett.

Twenty-two games in. Eleven wins, eleven losses -- not half bad. Maybe half full.

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