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Notes: Lester to face Minor Leaguers

Notes: Lester to face Minor Leaguers

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester took the latest step in his gradual throwing program on Sunday morning, firing 37 pitches of batting practice to Minor League hitters.

Next up will be a start in the Minor League exhibition opener on Friday, at which point Lester will pitch two innings. After that, Lester will take whatever the Red Sox give him.

His plan is to be ready to pitch in a rotation -- even if it's at Triple-A Pawtucket -- by the time the season starts.

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"I think by the end of spring, I'll be ready to go," said Lester. "I'm pitching two or three innings on Friday. That's a Minor League game, a game atmosphere. And then we'll just go from there. Maybe the next step is to come up here and pitch a game up here, whatever. The goal is hopefully to get four or five innings by the end of camp, and come April 1, I'm headed somewhere, hopefully up north."

After an offseason in which he underwent six chemotherapy treatments for anaplastic large cell lymphoma, Lester is now at the stage where he thinks simply about pitching.

He understands why the Red Sox have brought him along on a slower program this spring.

"There's no way I can go out there and pitch against big-league hitters right now," said Lester. "I'm just not physically ready. Like I said, every five days we're going to get some more work in, we're going to up the workload and, hopefully, I'll get to pitch for these guys sometime."

Pitching coach John Farrell has outlined Lester's program in two-week increments, and thus far has watched the lefty pass every step.

"From a physical standpoint, he feels good," said Farrell. "His recovery time has been normal. He's doing very well and we'll look to build him an inning at a time, which we'll do starting Friday. If he's going four or five innings by the end of the month, by the first part of April, I think we would all consider that a success. The approach that we've taken is two weeks at a time."

For Lester, most of his concerns are technical at this point.

"[My] mechanics are there, it's just a matter of repeating them," said Lester. "You get up to 30 pitches, it's hard to repeat them all the time. It's just a matter of repeating and getting the work, building arm strength and just getting back to being normal."

Confidence in Pedroia: With second baseman Dustin Pedroia off to a .143 start this spring, manager Terry Francona expressed no reservations about the rookie's readiness to play every day.

"It's no knock on [Alex Cora], but we brought Pedroia here to be the second baseman," said Francona. "I don't know what he's hitting. I haven't even looked. Spring Training is still Spring Training. David [Ortiz] hit his first home run the other day. Up to that point, he had really struggled."

Stretching out Okajima: By pitching 2 1/3 innings and striking out four batters on Saturday, lefty Hideki Okajima demonstrated to Francona that he can provide some innings out of the bullpen when necessary.

"That would certainly be of value," Francona said. "You have a left-hander that can maybe go a couple, three innings, that could be very valuable to us. I don't know that he is a left-on-left guy. It looks like he has the ability to get some right-handed hitters out. In Japan, he's done all of those things. He's been a closer, he's been a reliever. He should be able to do things like that. Even though he's new here, he's a veteran pitcher."

Coming up: Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield will take the mound Monday night when the Red Sox play their lone exhibition game against the Yankees. New York will counter with former Sox farmhand Carl Pavano. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. ET. Hideki Matsui, Jason Giambi and Robinson Cano are the regulars making the trip to Fort Myers for the Yankees.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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