Lester tabbed AL Pitcher of the Month

Lester tabbed AL Pitcher of the Month

BOSTON -- In a season that continues to be a back-and-forth tussle between elite and mediocre for the Red Sox, Jon Lester is playing a role of consistent brilliance on the mound for the defending World Series champions.

On Monday, Lester was rewarded for his efforts. The 24-year-old lefty was named American League Pitcher of the Month for July, a month that only gives a brief look at just how effective Lester's been throughout the 2008 campaign.

"It's nice," Lester said. "It's something that, whatever it is [a specially designed trophy], will probably go on the wall and it is something that will definitely be remembered for a long time."

Lester went 3-0 with a 2.05 ERA in four July starts. He struck out 28, allowed only seven earned runs and gave up 31 hits in that span. More importantly, the Red Sox won each game when he took the mound, even his no-decision against Minnesota on July 8, when Lester allowed five of those seven runs against the Twins.

Lester is 10-3 overall this season -- including a no-hitter on May 19 against the Royals. Not bad for a third-year starter who already has a series-clinching World Series win under his belt.

Meanwhile, he's become a workhorse this season, pitching 146 1/3 innings to date, 10th most in the American League.

"[This type of award] gives you a chance to brag about him," manager Terry Francona said. "Now, nationally, people will pick it up and take his story, which is really cool. We all like that. He's just maturing into a really good Major League pitcher, and it's kind of fun to watch."

That's one of the reasons why Lester took home the AL Pitcher of the Month award in July: He's consistent. He takes the ball every fifth day and gives Francona all indications that he will give the bullpen a bit of a breather.

It's certainly becoming evident that the young southpaw is coming of age real quickly in the midst of a starting rotation full of proven veterans over the past few years.

"I don't need that award to realize how far this year has come and how much I've progressed," Lester said, "and how much more comfortable I've become on the mound."

Lester pitched at least seven innings in each of his July starts, and his final outing of the month came at a critical juncture of the first homestand after the All-Star Game.

Having already dropped two games to the Yankees at Fenway Park, Lester took the hill knowing a sweep by their heated rivals would mean an 0-3 record at Fenway since the break -- not to mention draw the two teams even in the AL East standings.

He didn't disappoint his teammates. Lester tossed seven strong innings against New York, striking out eight and allowing just two runs in a 9-2 victory.

It was an encore of sorts, with Lester turning in an even better performance against the Yankees in his first start of July. He marched into Yankee Stadium on July 3 and outdueled veteran Andy Pettitte in a shutout win.

Lester allowed only five hits in that contest, with only one coming from the top six hitters in the Yankees' lineup. Between the two starts against New York, Lester compiled a combined 11 consecutive innings of shutout ball.

But as good as he was against the Bronx Bombers, Lester did not discriminate in July -- he was pretty dangerous against everybody.

Even in his no-decision against Minnesota, Lester struck out six and went 7 1/3 innings. In fact, his 117 pitches in that outing are the most he has thrown in any game since his no-hitter in May.

And in Seattle, a homecoming of sorts for the Tacoma, Wash., native, Lester tossed another 7 1/3 innings of shutout ball in a 4-0 win. He scattered eight hits in the victory and struck out six.

Lester took the honors amongst other elite performers considered, including Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez, Yankees starter Mike Mussina, Twins closer Joe Nathan, Indians starter Cliff Lee and Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay.

Still, even while taking top honors in a slew of talented hurlers like that, Lester isn't getting ahead of himself. He knows that even with his coming of age this season, he needs to take each start one at a time.

He said it takes maturity to find the same long-term success that his teammates Josh Beckett, Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield have accumulated.

"I'm just a regular starter, going out and pitching every five days, and hopefully, I'll get the team a quality start," Lester said. "Hopefully, I can build off this year and keep going and getting better and hopefully down the road, become that guy."

Mark Remme is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.