Lester named Red Sox's Opening Day starter

Lester named Red Sox's Opening Day starter

Lester named Red Sox's Opening Day starter
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- A month and a half before pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training, Josh Beckett told Bobby Valentine that the Red Sox's Opening Day starter should not be Josh Beckett.

Valentine listened.

Left-hander Jon Lester was named the Red Sox's Opening Day starter for a second straight season on Monday, in part because of Beckett's own insistence. Boston's first regular-season game of 2012 is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET on April 5 in Detroit -- with reigning Cy Young and Most Valuable Player Award winner Justin Verlander on the mound for the Tigers.

"I'm excited, kind of the same as I was last year," said Lester, who took a no-decision in last season's Opening Day against Texas. "Honored. It's nice to know you're the first one out of the gate. Like I said, it's always exciting. It's nice to get the first one out of the way as soon as possible, so you can build off that. Like I said, the biggest thing is I'm honored and excited."

Beckett, meanwhile, is in line to have an honor of his own by starting in Fenway Park's opener. Beckett's second turn through the rotation will be the Red Sox's first home game of 2012, a contest against the Rays at 2:05 p.m. ET on April 13.

Valentine had some fun delivering his announcement to reporters Monday morning, with intentional pauses:

"And the Opening Day starter is! ... Jon Lester in Detroit," he said. "And the Opening Day starter is! ... Josh Beckett in Boston."

"I think the No. 1 determinant was a conversation I had with Josh [on New Year's Day in Texas], where Josh explained to me about starting pitchers and their Opening Day status or mentality or whatever," Valentine said of his thinking. "He thought Jon earned the job last year and didn't do anything to lose it. I said, 'You have a lot more knowledge of Opening Day starters and mentality than I.' I saw the health of both of them. I figured it's an honor both ways, I think -- home opener and opener. So they're both getting an honor."

Lester and Beckett both enjoyed outstanding 2011 seasons, September's disappointment aside. Lester went 15-9 with a 3.47 ERA and 182 strikeouts in 31 starts, while Beckett went 13-7 with a 2.89 ERA and 175 K's in 30 starts.

Lester, 28, is the first lefty to start consecutive Opening Days for Boston since Mel Parnell started three straight from 1952-54. Lester said his goal this season is as it has always been: 200 innings and 30 starts.

The Opening Day starter title is more honorary than anything, because rotations are so often shuffled in-season. But it can carry some meaning for some pitchers, and Valentine knows that.

"I think it's in the back of everybody's mind," Lester said, when asked if he thought about the designation. "Whether or not I pitch the first game or the fifth game, it doesn't matter to me. I just want to pitch and compete. All the guys in our rotation are worthy enough to pitch Opening Day."

"Because you've pitched the first game of the season, it doesn't mean that it lines up so you can pitch the first game of the playoffs," Valentine said. "I don't believe in any of that stuff, either. And I definitely don't believe the No. 1 starter matches up against the other team's No. 1 starter. I don't think that holds any validity. It's just a nice thing to plan and do."

Lester said he was told he was getting the nod by Valentine some time after his last outing, on Friday at JetBlue Park against the Twins, although he was not positive.

Beckett, who turns 32 in May, may not always show his most genial side publicly, but Lester wanted to make clear Beckett is there for his teammates. And Valentine was glad it happened, too.

"I think that's what people don't see from Josh," Lester said. "They think he's kind of this ... stubborn guy that doesn't care, and I think he cares more than people think, about his teammates. Saying something like that means a lot.

"It was great information," Valentine said of the January conversation. "It was like, 'Gosh, I'm glad that I don't now have to worry about this through Spring Training and all that stuff.' So maybe I was surprised. Pleasantly surprised, I guess. I don't know."

There was some brief talk of the No. 3 spot in the rotation on Monday, as well. If healthy, Clay Buchholz has long been expected to be the guy, although Valentine wanted to wait on officially making that announcement.

"You're really getting out there," Valentine said sarcastically when asked if Buchholz was the third starter. "We'll see how he feels today after pitching his first five-inning stint [Sunday] in a long time. I think he feels great, but we'll see. We'll see how he does next time."

Here's one way the Red Sox's rotation could play out in the trip through the rotation: Lester on Opening Day, Beckett in Game No. 2 on April 7 -- there's a day off after Opening Day -- and then Buchholz on April 8. The fourth starter, presumably Alfredo Aceves or Daniel Bard, would pitch the opener of a three-game series in Toronto on April 9, with Lester coming back on his regular four days' rest on April 10.

That means a fifth starter wouldn't be needed until April 11 in the series finale against the Blue Jays.

Evan Drellich is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @EvanDrellich. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.