FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) – Clay Buchholz pitched a no-hitter in his second major league start. Jon Lester won the final game of the World Series.

Curt Schilling may never pitch again. Boston’s strong-armed youngsters probably were going to improve this year anyway. Now their progress is more urgent because the pitcher who was 17 when they were born is sidelined with a serious shoulder injury.

With Schilling’s rehabilitation expected to keep him out until at least the All-Star break, lefty Lester and righty Buchholz are likely to open the season in the Red Sox rotation, perhaps in the third and fourth slots.

Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka have the top two spots. Tim Wakefield could be No. 3 if he’s recovered from inflammation behind his right shoulder that kept him out of Boston’s World Series sweep of Colorado, or No. 5.

But Lester won’t ease up just because he’s already penciled into the rotation.

“Penciled in, that doesn’t mean anything. You want to be inked into that spot,” he said after arriving two weeks before Saturday’s first workout of spring training. “I have to control what I do on a day-to-day basis and go out and pitch and worry about that.”

Uncommonly mature for someone 24, Lester faced a more serious challenge before spring training last year. He reported to camp less than six weeks after his final chemotherapy treatment for anaplastic large cell lymphoma, a kind of cancer in the body’s lymph system.

He spent most of last season with three minor league teams and pitched only 12 games for Boston, going 4-0 with a 4.57 ERA. Then he worked 5 2-3 shutout innings and got the win in the 4-3 victory over the Rockies that clinched the Red Sox second World Series championship in four years.

“Only having a year in the big leagues and winning the World Series is a pretty big deal,” Lester said, “and the way that it happened last year, with everything that went on and just kind of the road that I took to get up there, it was very special.”

Buchholz is 23, seven months younger than Lester with only four games of major league experience. He wasn’t even on the World Series roster because he had reached his innings limit set by the cautious Red Sox.

Not even his 3-1 record, 1.59 ERA or no-hitter against Baltimore on Sept. 1 – one day before Lester also beat the Orioles – changed their minds.

“They were really just protecting me,” Buchholz said. “So I don’t blame them for taking me off the roster, but it would have been great to be a part of it.”

He didn’t even get to the championship parade in Boston. He already had begun his two-month, offseason shoulder strengthening program at Athletes Performance Institute outside Pensacola, Fla., a town Buchholz found boring. Red Sox pitching prospect Michael Bowden also was there.

“We were either playing games or watching movies or sleeping” after their two daily workouts, Buchholz said.

He arrived in camp Monday with about 190 pounds on his 6-foot-4 frame. He ended last season at 180 and has trouble keeping weight on.

But that didn’t stop him from achieving “the greatest sports moment of my life” when he no-hit the Orioles.

He and Lester were mentioned in speculation about a trade with Minnesota for Johan Santana, who eventually went to the New York Mets when general manager Theo Epstein’s offer wasn’t good enough for the Twins.

That’s fine for two pitchers who could be major contributors to the Red Sox for a long time.

“With everything that happened in the past year and a half this has really kind of become my family,” Lester said. But if he were traded, “there’s not a whole lot you can do. You can’t call up Theo and say, ‘Theo, you know I really don’t want to be traded.’ You don’t have that pull.”

Buchholz doesn’t want to leave the mound where he made history or the fans who cheered him.

“This is the best place in the world to be in Boston,” he said. “It was unbelievable last year.”

Lester and Buchholz have had their memorable moments. They also have great promise.

But they don’t have the outstanding track record that Schilling does.

Schilling’s injury “just basically opens the window, the window of opportunity,” Buchholz said. “If I want it I’m going to have to take it. If not, somebody else is going to get it.”

AP-ES-02-12-08 1703EST

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