Lester perfect on St. Patrick's Day

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jon Lester's perfectly lined up to be the Red Sox's Opening Day starter, even though no announcement's been made to that end yet. He's had a stellar spring, with just two runs allowed in 20 innings, and his regular season will be impressive if the results can translate at least in part.

The Sox lefty threw six perfect innings on Sunday in a 5-1 St. Patrick's Day win over the Rays at JetBlue Park, making him 3-0 with a 0.90 ERA this Grapefruit League season.

"Getting good results," Lester said Sunday. "Like I said early on, when you work on things and you try to, I shouldn't say overhaul, but you have some things that you're conscious of that you're working on and you get good results from that, it just makes that process easier. You're able to buy into those things and see that it is working. Early on, that was my mindset."

The keys for Lester have been a quickened pace and wasting less time in between pitches. What goes hand-in-hand with those improvements is less time to think.

"There were -- obviously -- things I was working on to improve last year, and you're trying to feel through those things as well, figuring out, 'That's what it's supposed to feel like. That one wasn't,'" said Lester. "It was more pitch to pitch. Now it's more game to game on how I feel. You don't have that critiquing from pitch to pitch. Now I'm worried about, 'What's the next pitch? How do I need to execute this to get him out? It makes things a lot easier when you're not worried about, 'Is my leg kick in the right spot? Am I staying tall? Am I staying closed? Am I driving toward the plate?'

"You've got a checklist of 1,500 things it seems, and now you've got to worry about getting Evan Longoria out. That's what makes it tough. Now the checklist is a lot smaller, a lot easier. It makes it easier to worry about getting Evan Longoria out as opposed to the years past."

Lester has been Boston's Opening Day starter the past two years. His next start is scheduled for Friday, and that puts him in line to pitch again March 27 and then April 1 in New York.

Even if Lester's the logical choice, manager John Farrell said Sunday morning he's not ready to announce anything, and Lester said he hasn't been told.

"We're probably getting close to naming who that Opening Day starter is, but not yet," said Farrell.

Farrell said he hasn't talked to whichever pitcher he's considering, either. He cited making sure everybody gets healthy as a reason for waiting on his decision.

"I'm starting Opening Day? I haven't been told anything," Lester said. "It's the same thing as during the season. I try not to look too far ahead and worry about the next one. The next one is in five days, and after that we'll do it again and see where we fall. If that's Opening Day, great. If not, I'll fall in line with the other guys."

Lester's next outing is slated for a Minor League game for two reasons: the Sox are traveling a couple hours away to Dunedin, Fla., and they're playing an American League East rival, the Blue Jays.

"We'll look to get every starter to 95 pitches before we break camp here, so that would be in line his next outing," Farrell said. "I think there's a preference to, you get into the final 10 days of camp to maybe avoid seeing them or them seeing him that close to the start of the season."

The lineup behind Lester on Sunday was notable because it featured the healthy regulars aside from Stephen Drew and David Ortiz: Jacoby Ellsbury (CF), Shane Victorino (RF), Dustin Pedroia (2B), Mike Napoli (1B), Jarrod Saltalamacchia (DH), Will Middlebrooks (3B), Jonny Gomes (LF), David Ross (C) and Jose Iglesias (SS).

"In those final 10 days, we'll start to look to get our lineup together more regularly," Farrell said. "[Sunday] is the first day we've had with whoever's available, to have it start this game. So we're getting to that interesting point in time in camp."

Concussion symptoms narrowing window for Drew

Outlook: Drew looks to rebound from underwhelming '12

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- David Ortiz has already been ruled out for Opening Day, and now shortstop Stephen Drew's chances of playing April 1 against the Yankees are shrinking, too.

After getting hit in his helmet March 7, Drew is still battling concussion symptoms, including feeling "wavy," as manager John Farrell put it Sunday morning.

"I think the window starts to narrow a little bit here. We're down to the final two weeks," Farrell said. "He's going to actually start to initiate some on-field activity, and that's just to go through stretch and get his arm ready to play catch. No BP. When those symptoms are fully subsided is when he starts to ramp things up more intently, and we're not there yet. ... We're getting into this last stage of camp. Yeah, you've got to think about all the options."

Ortiz still felt heel discomfort running on the treadmill on Saturday. Taking batting practice on Monday was a goal, but that may now not be reasonable.

"We'll see where he's at as far as being in a cage to take some initial swings tomorrow or over the next couple days," Farrell said.

Drew is in daily communication with a doctor at the University of Pittsburgh, which has a renowned brain trauma research center. Drew and the team have to follow strict Major League protocols about concussions, and while the team can and will continue to test him, the remedy for his symptoms is time.

"The biggest question is, when does he get back in a game?" Farrell said. "He still has that, as he described it, kind of a wavy feeling in his vision or that feel mentally that he has when he moves quickly or has a quick reaction to something to stay under control. Unfortunately, we felt -- as we stated before -- that this was going to be a couple day thing at the most. At the time he was hit, we never thought twice about it. But here we are, 10 days later, and we're still in the same situation."

Drew has shown some progress. When he exerts himself, his symptoms aren't worsening, which is a good sign, but he's still not able to get back into a game.

Jose Iglesias and Pedro Ciriaco are the two most likely to see time in Drew's absence.

"Pedro will be back on the field with more activity on the field today with his own back spasms that he's dealing with," Farrell said. "We haven't made any official change with the shortstop position. Everyone in camp will be part of that discussion."

Ortiz's heel inflammation is tricky, because there's little blood flow to the area. He's been using a bone stimulator.

Both heels have been problematic for Ortiz, but the right heel has been most bothersome.

"Any time you get into an area where there's limited blood flow, there's going to be any kind of stimulator type of machine that can assist in that way, and he's using that," Farrell said. "Obviously there's medications and anti-inflammatories he's taking, and then the prescribed exercise to tolerance to continue to maintain some basis or baseline of conditioning. We wish it were much more straightforward than that. There's only so many things he can do right now to address it."

 

Worth noting

• Shane Victorino's first game back following the World Baseball Classic saw him go 1-for-3 in the Red Sox's 5-1 win over the Rays on Sunday. Victorino said "disappointment" was a buzzword among his fellow Team USA participants, who were knocked out of the tournament by Puerto Rico on Friday.

"I think it's great for the game of baseball," Victorino said of the tournament. "Obviously it would be greater if the USA was in there, for the sake of, for our country. Very disappointing, but I look at it as another great experience to be with a bunch of great guys."

Victorino said he thought he got enough at-bats, although he would have liked to have been in the field more, and that he'll play wherever he's asked to, if that means left field on the road and right at home. He also said that worrying about whether he and Jacoby Ellsbury have enough time to get to know each other defensively is unnecessary.

"I gave you guys my answer," Victorino said. "When somebody gets traded over at the Deadline, I don't get to go and work with him. I don't get to say, 'OK let me now go take a week with whoever gets traded over.' Hunter Pence got traded over [and] I didn't get time to go work with him. Jacoby and I talked about that. Sometimes I think people, not necessarily naming people, but, you guys want to make it like, 'OK, we got to work together, you got to do this, you got to do that.'"

• Craig Breslow (left shoulder) is throwing out at 110 feet and continues to slowly make strength gains. Farrell reaffirmed that tests on Breslow showed no structural damage.

"I know for one it's been frustrating for Bres himself and we continually reexamine the situation internally, because of the amount of time it's taken," Farrell said.

• Red Sox Major League infielders on Monday will be working on the shift among other things at JetBlue Park while the Minor League infielders fill in for a Grapefruit League game in Bradenton. If a pull left-handed hitter worthy of the shift is up without a man on first, Farrell said he'll play Will Middlebrooks where the second baseman would be.

"[Dustin Pedroia] will be in short right field," Farrell said. "When there's a man on first, they'll swap to keep Pedroia around the bag."