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Lester tunes up, builds arm strength in sharp outing

Lester tunes up, builds arm strength in sharp outing

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- As a hitter on an opposing team, A.J. Pierzynski was quite familiar with Jon Lester. However, as the new everyday catcher for the Red Sox, Pierzynski is discovering he has a lot to learn about his current team's ace left-hander.

"I didn't know he's as competitive as he is -- he's got a little [Jake] Peavy in him, out there yelling at himself on the mound," Pierzynski said Friday after Lester had blanked the Phillies on four hits over the first 5 2/3 innings and Pierzynski had doubled home both of the Red Sox runs in a 2-2 tie in 10 innings.

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Lester, who will make his fourth consecutive Opening Day start on March 31 in Baltimore against the Orioles, struck out five and walked one. The 30-year-old lefty has now struck out 14 batters in 12 2/3 spring innings and has a spring ERA of 0.71.

"The numbers speak for themselves," Pierzynski said. "He made pitches when he had to. He throws the ball over the plate."

"He went out and pitched, he didn't overexert himself," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "I thought he used his fastball very well."

"I felt good, I got in rhythm a little earlier than I did last time," Lester said. "I still don't have a good feel for my breaking ball, but that will come. I feel like I'm headed in the right direction.

"I think the plan is to keep building my arm up," the lefty continued. "I don't want to go into the first start [of the regular season] only being able to throw 85 or 90 pitches."

According to Farrell, Lester was slated to throw 80-85 pitches against the Phillies on Friday. He threw 81.

"He'll throw 95-100 in his last outing," Farrell said. "We'll continue to build up the number of pitches."

Lester is scheduled to make his final spring start on Wednesday when the Red Sox play the Orioles, their Opening Day opponent.

Farrell said Friday that the Red Sox haven't decided whether Lester will start that Grapefruit League game or pitch in a Minor League camp game.

Only Adam Wainwright (276) and Clayton Kershaw (259) threw more combined innings than Lester (248) did last year. Lester's 4,083 pitches between the regular season and postseason were the most in baseball.

Lester, who is entering the final year of his contract, said negotiations are continuing on an extension that would keep him in a Red Sox uniform.

"I think we're headed in the right direction," he said. "We're not in the red zone, but we've had good dialogue. As of right now we just have to keep hashing it out."

Jim Hawkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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