Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Thursday, April 19, 2007

LESTER, HANSACK HEAT UP

Though Julian Tavarez did a respectable job against the Blue Jays today (three runs on six hits in 5 1/3 innings), he's simply filling in as the Sox number five starter. You could say he's holding down the fort, so to speak. It's just a matter of time before Jon Lester makes a much ballyhooed return to the Sox rotation to reclaim the role he held, and the promise he displayed, last year.

Lester will pitch a side session in Boston on Sunday, and then meet with team executives to discuss the timeline for his return to the big league club. Between now and then, the lefty will make his fourth, and perhaps final, start in Single A for the Greenville Drive. Lester is expected to pitch five-innings on Friday in Savannah against the Sand Gnats, possibly throwing as many as 85 pitches.

After that, it appears the Sox intend to have the 23-year-old begin making starts for Triple A Pawtucket, the first tentatively scheduled for Wednesday afternoon in Rochester against the Twins' Triple A affiliate, the Red Wings.

Since rehab assignments for pitchers can't last longer than 30 days, and Lester's DL stint is retroactive to March 28, the Sox will have to place Lester on a roster by the end of next week. That assignment will likely be with Pawtucket first, before resuming his spot with the Red Sox in May, or even June.

Lester's road back from lymphoma treatment has been steady and promising, but with little of the fanfare that accompanied his every start last season, when expectations were so incredibly high.

In Lester's first rehab start for Greenville, he went four innings against the Charleston RiverDogs, a Yankees affiliate. In that debut game, the young lefty allowed just two hits and one walk, striking out five. Throwing a total of 54 pitches, 37 for strikes, Lester went four innings and even hit 96 mph at one point. If you're doing the math, that's 69% of his pitches for strikes. All of it was very encouraging.

His second rehab start went about as well as his first. Again working on a strict pitch count (51 pitches), the Sox hurler allowed three hits and no runs over four innings, striking out five and walking one.

Perhaps Lester's most impressive stat after his two starts for the Drive; no runs in eight innings.

Lester’s third scheduled rehab appearance was limited to a 75-pitch bullpen session under simulated game conditions on Sunday. The lefty was supposed to pitch the final five innings in a replay of Saturday night’s rain shortened contest. However, after he began warming up, the umpires ruled that he was ineligible to pitch because his name wasn’t on the previous night’s lineup card. So he'll take his turn tomorrow in an extended outing in Savannah instead.

But, before Lester takes his turn in the Sox rotation again, the team may see yet another impressive young performer from last season first.

Devern Hansack has made two-consecutive sizzling starts for Pawtucket. In the latest, Hansack struck out 10 in five scoreless innings in a 5-3 win over Durham Wednesday. Hansack has now whiffed an International League-leading 20 batters in just 10 2/3 innings, while allowing just one earned run.

So ultimately, Julian Tavarez, despite his performance today, shouldn't get too comfortable in the fifth spot of the Sox rotation. He isn't long for the job because it wasn't really his in the first place. The Sox youth movement will continue, and Tavarez will have to make room for the kids.

Copyright © 2007 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

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