02/26/09 5:46 PM EST
Lester mixing things up this spring
Red Sox southpaw adding changeup to ease stress on arm
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
Lester reeled off a few changeups in Thursday's exhibition debut against the Pirates, a 30-pitch stint in which he went unscored upon while yielding two hits over two innings.
His low-to-mid-90s heater and cutter his clear weapons of choice, Lester is looking for the changeup to join his already solid curveball as ways to keep eager hitters off balance.
"It's still a work in progress," said Lester. "I threw some today, and we're just trying to pick counts and situations where it's hopefully not going to hurt us to get some work in and get some feel and some reaction from hitters on it. That's what Spring Training is for. You use it as a building block for the season, but you also take your weaknesses and you try to focus on them, and that's one that, this spring, we're really trying to focus on."
The added use of the changeup during Grapefruit League action should also lessen the strain on Lester's arm.
"The idea is two-fold," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "One is to incorporate the changeup more -- give him another weapon. And in the meantime, [he can] stay away from the cutter early in camp. [We want to] force him to use [the changeup], which is going to benefit him down the road."
Without the use of the changeup, Lester still produced a breakout season in 2008, going 16-6 with a 3.21 ERA while logging 210 1/3 innings. But he's at an exciting point in his progression -- one that could allow him to take another leap forward this year.
The changeup could aid that leap. How much did he use it last year?
"Hardly ever," Lester said. "That was partly because I didn't prepare as well in Spring Training with it, because when you don't have fastball command, it's hard to work on other pitches. This year, I feel more comfortable with my fastball and my command. I feel that I can spend the time in the bullpen working on other pitches than just my fastball."
Lester isn't looking to become the next Johan Santana, who, by the way, he was once involved in trade talks for.
"For me, I can't do it. You look at Santana, that's his out pitch," Lester said. "My changeup is never going to be my out pitch. It's going to be a pitch that, like I said, I use behind in the count, fastball count. [If you have a] dead pull hitter [and] you want to throw that first-pitch changeup, you can do it. But it's not a pitch that's going to be an out pitch or a devastating pitch for me. It's just not going to happen. It's just something I have to get confidence with and keep building with."
Other than trying to gain comfort with the change, Lester felt that Thursday was a fairly routine first start of Spring Training.
"Yeah, it was nice to face some live hitters and get that 'L' screen out of the way and get some fans up there and get some adrenaline going, so it was a good step in the right direction for me," Lester said. "It's just pitching and getting that feel all over again -- learning how to deal with emotions and getting back in that rhythm. It was just kind of a normal Spring Training start. [I] got out of it healthy, and now we just move on and just keep building up."
How hard is it to bring another pitch into the mix and make it something that can be relied on every fifth day?
"Very tough," Lester said. "It's tough to master any pitch. It doesn't matter if it's a fastball or a split or whatever it is. It's tough to master it. I don't think you ever master a pitch. It's something you have feel for and you have command. That's really all we're trying to get. I'm not trying to have the best changeup in the league. I'm just trying to get a changeup that's effective or one that I can throw behind in the count when we need to."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.