FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jon Lester might have had a down year in 2012, but the Red Sox still view him as an ace. And that's why the lefty will take the ball at Yankee Stadium on Monday for Opening Day.
After weeks of speculation, manager John Farrell finally made it official on Wednesday morning, telling Lester the news a few hours before he turned in a dominant performance in his final start of Spring Training.
"All the words -- honored, privileged -- all of that, especially for this organization, to be named that," said Lester. "I take it with great pride, and I'll go out there and give it a good start and hopefully get this team off to a good start this season."
For weeks, Farrell had planned on Lester leading the Red Sox into the 2013 season.
"The way he was lined up, he was probably targeted all along," said Farrell. "At the same time, we didn't want that to be a focal point. His work that was needed and the adjustments that he's continued to reinforce and repeat on the mound were the priorities. We felt like it was important to focus on the needs of Spring Training for every pitcher, including Jon, before we got into the rotation [order]."
In six Grapefruit League starts, Lester went 3-0 with a 0.75 ERA, looking a lot more like the pitcher who dominated from 2008-11 than the one who stumbled last year.
"He's gotten back to a delivery that was similar to what he had in the past," Farrell said. "I think he's executing pitches with the consistency we saw before that made him one of the top left-handers in the game. He's had a very strong Spring Training. "
Right-handers Clay Buchholz and Ryan Dempster will follow Lester in New York, pitching April 3 and 4, respectively. Left-hander Felix Doubront and righty John Lackey will round out the rotation, pitching the first two games in Toronto.
Buchholz is on tap to pitch the home opener on April 8 against the Orioles.
Lester was 9-14 with a 4.82 ERA in 33 starts in 2012, but he was able to spend Spring Training refining his delivery to what it used to be.
What was the specific adjustment?
"Stand tall," Lester said. "It sounds simple. It really does. It sounds easy. For whatever reason, it morphed through 2011 into 2012, and I fell into some bad habits and couldn't get myself out of them until the middle of last year. It makes a big difference on the way the ball comes in the zone.
"Having good results, when you're making adjustments like that, always help. When you're battling through some tough times and not getting results, it's hard to buy into them, but I had to buy into it from Day One and have been able to do that and get good results this spring."
Wednesday's performance was a perfect way for Lester to go into the regular season.
"Real good spring for him. He's been sharp, he's been consistent," Farrell said. "Today was no different. He threw multiple pitches for strikes. Once again, he was very much in control."