OAKLAND, Calif. — Jon Lester heads into the All-Star break with a lot to think about.
The lefthander lost again Saturday night as the Red Sox were beaten, 3-0, by the Oakland Athletics before a sellout crowd of 36,067 at Oakland Coliseum.
Lester did not pitch poorly, giving up three runs on six hits over 6⅓ innings. Statistically, that’s a quality start and by that measure it represents progress.
But Lester is 2-6 with a 6.27 earned run average in his last 11 starts. As the Red Sox evaluate their rotation for after the break, Lester is a question mark. After a terrific first nine games of the season (6-0, 2.72), he is searching for some kind of consistency.
“Stuff’s the same. Mind-set’s the same. Bad execution,” Lester said. “When it comes down to those times in the game where you need to execute pitches and not allow runs to come across the plate, I just didn’t do a very good job of that.”
Lester felt he commanded his pitches better against the Athletics, moved his fastball around and had a good changeup.
“Just keep plugging away. Work hasn’t stopped. Come back out in my next go-round and come back with the same stuff I had [Saturday] both on the mound and in my head. I feel like I’m real close,” he said.
Lester said the All-Star break would allow him to return next week feeling like it’s a new season. The Sox have to hope he pitches that way, too. Lester’s first start is likely to be against the Yankees.
Manager John Farrell thought Lester pitched well and was a victim of poor run support more than anything else.
“I thought tonight was a very solid performance for him,” Farrell said. “You know, on a night when we score our typical amount of runs we’re probably having a completely different conversation after the game with the way he’s pitched.”
Oakland righthander A.J. Griffin (8-6) pitched eight innings. He scattered six hits, walked one, and struck out three. Griffin retired the final seven batters he faced.
“Pretty impressive what he did,” Lester said.
Grant Balfour finished the Sox off for his 25th save. He has converted 43 consecutive saves dating to last season.
The Sox were held to seven hits, two each from Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino, and never came close to scoring.
With Tampa Bay winning, the Sox have a 3½-game lead in the American League East. The Red Sox will pitch rookie Brandon Workman against All-Star Bartolo Colon in the series finale on Sunday. The Sox are 5-4 on their West Coast trip.
Lester had retired nine straight before Derek Norris lined an 0-and-2 fastball over the fence in left field in the fifth inning.
The pitch was up and over the plate. Lester has allowed seven home runs on 0-and-2 pitches in his career. Three of them have come this season with two in the last two starts.
“Doesn’t matter what the count is. It’s a home run,” Lester said.
The Oakland lead grew to 2-0 in the sixth. With one out, Lester walked Jed Lowrie after getting ahead of him, 0 and 2.
Josh Donaldson followed with a single to center on another 0-and-2 pitch. Lowrie scored when Yoenis Cespedes singled to left.
Lester did not get out of the seventh inning. Josh Reddick led off with a single to left, beating the defensive shift. Lester then walked Norris.
With one out, Farrell called in Junichi Tazawa. Coco Crisp hit the first pitch into right field for an RBI single.
The Red Sox had runners on in the first six innings against Griffin but could not score.
Victorino and David Ortiz had singles in the first inning before Napoli struck out swinging.
Napoli doubled off the wall in center with out in the fourth inning. Daniel Nava hit the ball well but Cespedes caught it in left. Jarrod Saltalamacchia then flied out deep to center.
“You get into this ballpark at night, very few fly balls are going to carry,” Farrell said.
The sixth inning brought another missed chance for the Red Sox. Ortiz reached on an error by second baseman Grant Green with one out. After Napoli struck out again, Nava singled to right field and Ortiz went to third base.
Saltalamacchia then flied to left and the Sox were still scoreless. They were 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position at that point.
“I think that as hitters we got ourselves out. We got a lot of good pitches to hit and we just didn’t,” Saltalamacchia said.Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.