Jon Lester tries to pitch the Boston Red Sox to their sixth straight win this evening when they open a three-game set with the Atlanta Braves at Fenway Park.
Lester won for the first time in five starts on Saturday against the Chicago Cubs, as he allowed three runs - all on a Luis Valbuena home run - and seven hits in 6 2/3 innings. He also struck out eight batters and improved to 4-4 on the year to go along with a 4.53 ERA.
"I threw 102 pitches, and one was a mistake," Lester said afterward. "It's still frustrating. I started the game with a couple of hard-hit line drives. (Dustin Pedroia) made a great play on the double play there in the first inning to get me out of that inning. But, really, other than that, you look at the hits they had, a couple of flares to right, there were three infield hits. I've got to take that positive from the bad contact."
Lester beat the Braves for his first major league win back on June 16, 2006 in his only other start against them.
The Red Sox enter this series rolling after a three-game sweep of the Miami Marlins. Boston rallied twice on Thursday before eventually pulling out a 6-5 win.
Will Middlebrooks, who went 3-for-4 with four RBI, belted the tying two-run homer in the eighth, while Daniel Nava's single to center scored Ryan Kalish, who set up the go-ahead run with some heady base-running.
"I love to see guys growing and learning and excelling at the same time," Boston manager Bobby Valentine said of Middlebrooks, Nava and Kalish. "It's, I guess, a perfect combination."
The win was the Red Sox' seventh in eight tries. They also won six straight earlier in the season, but have not reeled off six consecutive wins in interleague play since June 15-20, 2010.
Hoping to slow the Red Sox down tonight will be righty Jair Jurrjens, who was an All-Star last season, but was demoted to the minors after an awful showing in April.
Jurrjens was 0-2 with a 9.37 ERA in four starts this season and was sent to Triple-A Gwinnett after a poor performance against the Los Angeles Dodgers. However, he is now back after it was learned that Brandon Beachy would be lost for the season and will need Tommy John surgery.
"This could be a big pickup if (Jurrjens) goes back to the form he had last year (when he made the All-Star team)," Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
Jurrjens has faced the Red Sox twice and is 0-1 with a 3.14 ERA against them.
The Braves come into tonight's series feeling good about themselves after taking the final two games of their three-game affair with the New York Yankees, including a 10-5 win on Wednesday that saw them hit five home runs.
Jason Heyward hit two of those homers and knocked in three runs, while Freddie Freeman, Martin Prado and David Ross also left the yard for the Braves. Tommy Hanson (8-4) got the win despite giving up four runs on five hits over five- plus innings. He allowed four home runs.
"There were some balls hit pretty good today, but we survived," said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez. "Tommy did his five innings and he wiggled out of some situations."
Heyward has been on fire in June, batting .351 this month with five doubles, four homers and six multi-hit games. He's also riding a seven-game hitting streak.
"Jason, for the past five days to a week, has probably swung the bat as well as anybody in the lineup," third baseman Chipper Jones said earlier in the week. "He's been a tough out against lefties, hanging in there. He's hit the ball the other way into the gaps. We all know what kind of talent he has. He's a five-tool player if healthy. That's been the main thing so far."
Boston took four of six from the Braves the last time these teams met back in 2009.