Health permitting, Jon Lester will have a long and successful Major League career as a No. 3 or No. 4 starter. The left-hander even has the tools and the poise to develop into a No. 2 starter eventually. He has a wide assortment of pitches, and when he is at full strength, the velocity on his fast ball reaches the mid-90s. Yet this season, he is still just nine months removed from his last chemotherapy treatment, and he is not at full strength. And the control issues that plagued him last year have remained in his first three starts with the Red Sox.
Lester deserves to make at least one more start. He has earned the right to start at Fenway Park next week - either Monday or Tuesday against Tampa Bay, depending on how Terry Francona structures the rotation after today's off-day. He deserves to be greeted with a standing ovation from Red Sox Nation and hear the applause of grateful fans who recognize and appreciate his inspirational battle with a disease that has touched, in one way or another, many people across the world.
That said, if he does not deliver six solid innings, the Sox have to consider replacing him with Clay Buchholz, who has been dominant at Triple-A. It is clear that Buchholz is ready for his Major League debut, and the Sox are in the midst of a pennant race. They cannot afford a No. 5 starter who gives them four or five innings, and puts them in a hole because he consistently pitches behind in the count.
As Kevin Thomas wrote in the Portland (Maine) Press Herald, Buchholz is scheduled to start on August 17. It could be for Pawtucket, or it could be at Fenway Park, where the Sox have a day-night doubleheader against the Los Angeles Angels and will need to summon a starter from the minors. Devern Hansack (7-6, 3.58 ERA, 1.15 WHIP at Pawtucket) and Justin Masterson (4-0, 1.38 ERA, 0.72 WHIP is six starts at Double-A Portland) are potential candidates, but Buchholz would make the most sense.
I have read several media reports that Buchholz is nearing the season pitch count the Sox set for him. And there is no doubt that Red Sox Nation does not want Buchholz to become another Kerry Wood or Mark Prior, two Chicago Cubs phenoms whose careers have been derailed by injuries. However, teams tend to baby their pitching prospects. If Buchholz can help for the stretch run - if he started on August 17 and remained in the rotation, that would likely result in at least seven starts - it is worthwhile.
Lester can overcome his lack of command with experience, and he will be stronger next season since it will have been more than a year since his last chemotherapy treatment. As for this season, if he cannot give the Sox quality starts, Boston should bring in someone from the minors who will.