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BOS@BAL: Lester strikes out eight over five innings

Jon Lester was among the Majors' best pitchers as recently as May 15. He was 6-0, had a 2.72 ERA and the Red Sox had won seven of the nine games he started.

Since then, however, Lester's performance has dropped off and there really isn't much of an explanation. He maintains his health is fine and there has been no drop in his velocity, but in his past six starts, the lefty is 0-4 with a 7.20 ERA and opponents are hitting .324 against him.

He'll try to right the ship Friday when he takes the mound against the Tigers, but Detroit has historically had success against Lester. In five career starts against the club, he's 0-2 with a 4.78 ERA.

The Orioles hung five runs on Lester in just five innings Sunday, but manager John Farrell still viewed it as progress.

"I thought the work he did leading up to the start in Baltimore was a positive," Farrell said. "It's still going to come down to relentless execution, regardless of if it's a two-strike count, whether it's two outs in a given inning, whether it's Jon Lester or anybody else. That's the outcome you're looking for each time a guy walks to the mound. The numbers on the linescore are what they were from the last outing, but still, it was a step in the right way."

Taking another step forward against the Tigers will be no small task. Detroit enters the series as the third highest scoring offense in the American League and features arguably the best hitting tandem in the game in Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. But if you ask Farrell, the key to shutting down the Tigers has nothing to do with Cabrera or Fielder.

"The biggest key is don't let [Austin] Jackson and [Torii] Hunter get on so you can be a little bit more, I don't want to say pitching away from contact, but it's clear, with the number of RBIs that Miguel has accumulated so far, the guys ahead of him are getting on base and doing a good job," he said.

Jhonny Peralta sent the Tigers home happy Thursday when he hit a two-run, walk-off homer for a 4-3 win in the series opener.

Doug Fister, who will start for Detroit on Friday, flirted with a no-hitter Sunday before giving up a homer to lead off the sixth against the Twins. Fister still earned the win, his sixth of the year, as he gave up two runs over 7 2/3 innings.

"He was terrific," manager Jim Leyland said. "He did a great job of making them miss the ball."

The right-hander has a 3.21 ERA on the year.

Red Sox: Middlebrooks fights through slump
It's no secret Will Middlebrooks hasn't found his rhythm at the plate this season.

He's hitting just .192 and went 0-for-4 Thursday. Lately, his playing time has also been limited due to Jose Iglesias' hot hitting.

It's been frustrating, Middlebrooks admits, but he's trying to keep a positive outlook.

"I've felt better [lately]," Middlebrooks said. "I've had a few hard-hit balls at people. I can't really do anything about that. I haven't been out there consistently, but that's understandable. I know the business side of this. Like I've told them before, I'm here to win. Iggy's swinging a hot bat right now and playing good defense. I know how that goes. I get it."

Tigers: Avila's close to rehab stint
The 93-mph sinker that struck Alex Avila on his left forearm in the ninth inning Sunday has sidelined him ever since, but the Tigers expect the catcher's stint on the disabled list to be a short one.

Leyland said Avila could begin a rehab assignment as soon as Saturday.

"Well, a lot of the soreness is starting to go," Leyland said. "Obviously it was pretty sore there for a couple days, still sore yesterday. I saw him doing exercises in the trainer's room, and you know it's better."

Avila was placed on the 15-day DL and is eligible to return July 2 against Toronto. He is batting .172 this season with five homers and 13 RBIs.

Worth noting
• The Red Sox have won eight of their 12 road series this season. They are 21-16 away from Fenway Park this season.

• Cabrera (100 hits, 71 RBIs) is the first player since Ted Williams (102 hits and 72 RBIs in 1948) to have at least 100 hits and 71 RBIs in his team's first 70 games of the season.

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