LOS ANGELES — Jon Lester started on Opening Day for the Red Sox. But when the team returned from the All-Star break last month, he was the fifth starter to take the mound.
The Sox gave Lester nine days of rest, adjusting their rotation in the hope that some extra time off would allow the big lefthander to regain the form that has been missing for weeks.
A month later, that decision could be one that helps define the season for the Sox.
Lester continued a run of strong starts, pitching into the eighth inning of a 4-2 victory on Saturday against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Lester held the hottest team in baseball to one run on three hits over 7⅓ innings. Koji Uehara got the final four outs to save what was an important victory for the Red Sox.
The Sox are 3-2 on a road trip that ends Sunday night with Jake Peavy facing Chris Capuano. They will then play 18 of their final 30 games at Fenway Park.
“It would be pretty big to come out of here winning the series,” said Jonny Gomes, whose three-run homer in the first inning gave the Sox a lead they held. “Maybe we can get on a roll.”
Having Lester (12-7) pitching like an ace again will aid that goal. Since his working vacation ended, Lester is 4-1 with a 2.31 earned run average in seven starts. Lester has given up four earned runs in his last 29 innings and one in his last 15⅔.
“Whether or not he’s catching a second wind here in the second half of the season could very well be,” manager John Farrell said. “I think most importantly is his command and power to the fastball. That sets up everything for him.”
In his first career start against the Dodgers, Lester’s fastball hit 96 miles per hour and was at 94 into the eighth inning. He walked four — two on borderline calls by umpire Dan Iassogna — and struck out six.
“He was great,” second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. “That’s the guy we need.”
Lester was 2-6 with a 6.27 ERA in the 11 starts prior to the break. He gave up hits, particularly home runs, in bunches and was rarely able to work deep into games. He’s a different pitcher now, pitching into at least the seventh inning in each of his last four starts.
“You have to keep telling yourself to keep grinding away,” Lester said. “The toughest part is in between those starts. We have so much downtime to overanalyze things. That’s where I get myself in trouble sometimes.
“I’ve felt pretty good for a while. It comes down to 3-4-5 pitches in a game that I wasn’t executing.”
Aided by three double plays — all on line outs — Lester took a three-hit shutout into the eighth inning.
Lester got one out in the eighth before pinch hitter Carl Crawford drew a walk. With his starter at 101 pitches and two righthanders coming up, Farrell went to Junichi Tazawa.
Lester looked furious as he walked off the mound.
“I pitch until [Farrell] feels like I’m done,” Lester. “You can get frustrated or get mad at him but it’s not going to get you anywhere.”
Yasiel Puig lined a 2-and-2 pitch to center field for a single. Tazawa then struck out Mark Ellis with a slider for the second out.
Farrell came out again and called in lefthander Craig Breslow to face Adrian Gonzalez.
Gonzalez lined a fastball to the gap in left and two runs scored. Hanley Ramirez was next and he walked. Farrell turned to Uehara and he struck out A.J. Ellis to finally end the inning.
Uehara has rarely come in with runners on base. But he was unflappable as always.
“I was mentally prepared. It didn’t bother me at all. Just concentrate on the hitter in front of me,” Uehara said via interpreter C.J. Matsumoto.
Uehara retired the side in order in the ninth. He has pitched 20⅔ consecutive scoreless innings and since becoming the closer in June has a 0.32 ERA and 0.43 WHIP.
The four-out save was the second in Uehara’s career, the first since 2010. Getting Ellis had the many Red Sox fans in the crowd of 48,165 cheering.
“Given the momentum they had created, the fourth pitcher of the inning, we needed a big out there and he got it for us,” Farrell said.
The Red Sox scored all four of their runs in the first inning against lefthander Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Shane Victorino was hit by a pitch with one out. Singles by Pedroia and Mike Napoli made it 1-0.
Napoli finished 3 for 4, his first three-hit game since June 1.
Gomes jumped on the first pitch he saw and drove it over the fence in left-center field for his 11th home run.
Ryu threw a fastball up and over the outer third of the plate and Gomes was waiting for it. He has 18 RBIs in his last 24 games.
Gomes is hitting .238 but he has been one of the team’s most valuable players in recent months.
“I was hitting fifth and he threw four first-pitch fastballs before I got up,’’ Gomes said. “I knew he had good off-speed stuff, good secondary stuff, and the majority of pitchers have good fastballs, so I was hunting the fastball.”
Ryu (12-5) went five innings and allowed the four runs on five hits. He struck out seven without a walk.