Lester an early arrival at Sox camp

Lester an early arrival at Sox camp

BOSTON -- While it wasn't quite enough to erase the sting the entire region of New England was feeling over the Patriots' loss in Super Bowl XLII, the fact that Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester was having a Spring Training workout 10 days before the actual reporting date was nonetheless a symbol that baseball is drawing near.

Lester, who was last seen winning Game 4 of the Sox's World Series sweep over the Rockies, threw roughly 35 pitches on Monday in a bullpen session at the team's Spring Training complex.

Being an early bird is something Lester takes pride in. Jon Miller, a veteran Red Sox radio reporter and the first media member to report to camp virtually every year, surveyed the scene from Fort Myers, Fla.

"It's been a habit for me since probably about '04," Lester told Miller, who works for Boston radio station WBZ-AM 1030. "It just feels weird not getting down here early. I like to get a head start and get used to the sun and get used to running outside and the grass and getting up early and all that stuff."

And unlike last year at this time -- when Lester's comeback from cancer was one of the biggest stories of camp -- the left-hander is a story for baseball reasons only this spring.

"I had a full offseason this year to work out and didn't have any [chemotherapy] drugs going through me," said Lester. "I feel good. I just put on a little weight -- I'm about 225 now. Hopefully, I can maintain it and not lose it the first week I'm down here in the sun. Maybe [I'll] be a little stronger for the long haul this year."

If the Johan Santana sweepstakes had produced a different outcome, Lester might have been doing his workout in another part of Fort Myers on Monday.

"I'm very relieved," Lester said. "I don't want to leave Boston. It's a great place to play. No other place is like it. I'm just glad I stayed here and I'm not 10 miles down the road at the Twins' complex."

Lester will likely battle Clay Buchholz for the final spot in Boston's starting rotation.

Goals?

"I guess the first one is just making the team out of Spring Training," Lester said. "Pitch, every five days. That's realistic, that's something I can control. Otherwise, I can't put stats up there and just try to make those because you can't control those. All you can control is going out and doing your work and going out and pitching every five days and hopefully everything will take care of itself."

While the Patriots came just short of accomplishing their goal, Lester is hopeful the Red Sox can be baseball's first repeat team since the Yankees of 1998-2000.

"It's the same team as last year," Lester said. "We've got another good outfielder to throw in there with [Jacoby] Ellsbury. Whoever ends up playing, it's going to end up being a great outfield. Our infield is back. [Dustin Pedroia], [Julio] Lugo, Mike Lowell, [Kevin Youkilis] won a Gold Glove. It's going to be another fun year, and hopefully, we can go do it again."

Lester also gave a strong endorsement of manager Terry Francona, who is entering the final year of his contract. The Red Sox are on record as saying they'd like to sign Francona to an extension before the season starts.

"I hope they re-sign him -- I hope they lock him up for the rest of his life," Lester said. "I hope he'll be my manager for a long time. I don't see how they couldn't [re-sign him]. But that's Theo [Epstein] and John Henry and Mr. [Larry] Lucchino. That's their job to do that and worry about that stuff. We just have to worry about going out and playing 162 games and hopefully winning the World Series."

But before the pressure kicks in and the Red Sox try to get to a winner-take-all game like the Patriots just lost, Lester emphasized to Miller that Spring Training is a time to have fun.

"Just get used to the sun, get outside, run around a little bit, have some fun," Lester said. "This time of year right now is fun. There's no pressure, there's no expectations, there's no nothing. You just come in and work out, get your work in and go home. It's fun."

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