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Notes: Lester on comeback trail

Notes: Lester on comeback trail

KANSAS CITY -- When the Class A Greenville Drive opens its season Thursday night in Charleston, S.C., there will be a couple of storylines of interest to Red Sox fans.

Lefty Jon Lester will pitch in a regular season game -- albeit at the Minor League level -- for the first time since being diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma last August.

And Gabe Kapler, a Fenway favorite during his multiple stints with the Red Sox, will make his debut as a Minor League manager.

Though the Red Sox will be busy playing the Royals on Thursday afternoon and then flying to Texas, Sox manager Terry Francona is sure to get an update on his pitcher and former player.

In fact, Francona exchanged text messages with Lester on Wednesday afternoon and recently received an e-mail from Kapler.

Lester will make four starts for Greenville as the first step in his quest to get back to the Red Sox.

"Before he knows it, by about April 20, he's going to be up to about 85 pitches," said Francona.

Kapler is certainly a unique story in that he's making his managerial debut at the age of 31. Kapler is just six months removed from his final Major League game.

"I got an e-mail from Gabe the other night ... when to run, when to go on contact," said Francona. "I love talking to Kap anyway, this just gives me an excuse to give him a call. I'll probably give him a call tomorrow to see how [Lester] does."

Francona can relate to Kapler. Francona made his managerial debut in the Minors in 1992, just two years after his last game in the Majors. Francona was 32 when he started managing in the Minors.

"I'll bet you [Kapler's] excited," Francona said. "He's just got such a great outlook. There's some lucky young kids playing for him. He's just really special."

Ice-K: The Red Sox will get a quick glimpse at how well Daisuke Matsuzaka handles pitching in cold weather when he makes his highly anticipated Major League debut on Thursday. Weather.com projected the game-time temperature in Kansas City at 41 degrees with a wind-chill factor that will make it feel like 36.

Matsuzaka made all of his home starts for the Seibu Lions in a domed stadium.

"We were kind of talking about that today with the staff," Francona said. "I'd hate to put it in his head. They've got snow on their mountains, don't they? They've got to have some cold weather [in Japan]."

Pitching coach John Farrell feels that, if anything, the conditions could be an advantage for Matsuzaka.

"He has pitched in cold weather," said Farrell. "The one great thing about pitching on a cold night or a cold day is the warmest guy on the field is the starting pitcher."

Wintry Wednesday: There was also a chill in the air for Wednesday night's game, with the temperature hovering at 42 degrees when the Royals' Odalis Perez threw his first pitch.

"If we're winning, it will be warmer," said Francona. "If you're losing, it seems colder. You know what's hard, your at-bats don't carry over. Normally when it's nice out, you get a nice swing and you come up the next time and you feel good.

"In this weather, you could get a nice base hit and you could come up the next time and your bat still feels like a stranger. The handle is cold. It seems thicker. It's hard to get in a groove. And if you hit one on the end or get jammed, you pay the price and don't feel your hands for about two innings."

Avoiding rust: One of the early season challenges for Francona will be finding enough playing time to keep Wily Mo Pena, Alex Cora and Eric Hinske fresh. Doug Mirabelli is guaranteed a start every time Tim Wakefield pitches.

Not only did the season just start, but the Red Sox have multiple off-days sandwiched between the first seven games.

"I just talked to Hinske like five minutes ago about not losing his mind the first 10 days of the year," Francona said. "I'll talk to the rest of the guys, too."

The four reserves did get some work in on Tuesday, showing up in the morning to face Julian Tavarez in a simulated game.

"They'll start getting their playing time," Francona said. "It's a little abnormal right now just because the season is so young. It's kind of hard to go to [Mike] Lowell tomorrow and say, boy, I think you need a rest. We haven't played very much."

One of those days: Tuesday's off-day didn't give Francona a whole lot of added perspective for what went wrong for Curt Schilling on Opening Day.

"He didn't command," said Francona. "Sometimes when you're not commanding, like if you command a certain pitch, you can get out of a jam. Those are the things he really does well. He didn't do that. He pitched himself into a position where he had to make some pitches and he didn't."

On deck: Matsuzaka's first Major League start will occur on Thursday at 2:10 p.m. ET, when he pitches the finale of this three-game series against the Royals. Kansas City counters with right-hander Zack Greinke.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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