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Lester chewing up more than batters

Lester chewing up more than batters

NEW YORK -- No Red Sox player will get more of a head start on the All-Star break than red-hot lefty Jon Lester, who makes his final start of the first half on Tuesday at Fenway against the Twins.

With the off-day on Thursday, Daisuke Matsuzaka will pitch the Sunday before the break instead of Lester.

This sets up just about perfectly for the Red Sox, because Lester has logged more innings than anyone on the staff. In fact, after firing a complete-game shutout against the Yankees on Thursday night, Lester's 117 2/3 innings ranked him fourth in the American League.

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"I am aware of that," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "We think he he's built to carry a big load. But at the same time, we need to use some good conscience."

The most innings Lester has pitched in a season is the 153 2/3 he pitched between the Minors and Majors in 2007.

Lester is on pace to pitch 219 innings this year.

"I think that's a little deceptive, because he pitched in Japan," said Francona. "That's basically a Spring Training start and you're doubling that, so take 10, 12 off of there. He's really at 205, which is very manageable. I think you have to look past some numbers to see where we are."

Unlike a year ago, when Lester was coming back from cancer and putting weight back on, he couldn't be any stronger physically than he is right now.

Are the Red Sox worried that Lester will be able to keep up his current pace?

"We really don't or we would have slowed him down," Francona said. "We don't just look at how he does in his start. We look at, next day, how he bounces back. Side day. We keep an eye on everything. He has been as consistent as anyone we've been around in how he bounces back and how he does everything. He's handling it very well."

The numbers prove it. Despite Lester's seven wins, the rest of his numbers warrant strong All-Star consideration. For example, the lefty is eighth in the AL with a 3.21 ERA. His .700 winning percentage is ninth. Lester is tied with James Shields and reigning Cy Young Award winner C.C. Sabathia for the league lead in shutouts with two.

The All-Star teams will be selected on Sunday, and AL manager Francona confirmed Friday night that Lester is in the mix in his rankings of the top pitchers.

"If you go down and look statistically at what he's done, he should be considered -- I agree with that," Francona said.

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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