Lester gives weary mates a break


SAN FRANCISCO -- Whatever zone that Jon Lester finds himself in right now, he’s not interested in dissecting how he got there.

Things are rolling along nicely for the Red Sox left-hander, and he continued a strong second-half stretch by silencing the San Francisco Giants in Monday’s 7-0 victory at AT&T Park.

Lester didn’t allow a runner as far as third base over 8⅓ innings. He scattered six hits, walked two and struck out three. And that was a welcome effort for a group of bleary-eyed players who woke up Monday morning in Boston, flew six hours to the West Coast, then took the field in one of the nuttiest travel days any major leaguer will experience.

Lester (11-7) had the benefit of flying ahead to San Francisco on Sunday, and he certainly looked refreshed when he took the hill.

“Jon was exactly what we needed,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “We needed a strong pitching performance. On a night when we could use a guy to go deep in the game, he gave us just that.”

It’s something Lester’s teammates have grown accustomed to. Since the start of July, the lefty has fashioned a 3.12 ERA over nine starts, walking just 14 over 57⅔ innings. Compare that to his eight starts before that stretch, when he walked 24 over 47⅔ innings and ran up a 6.99 ERA.

Left fielder Daniel Nava, who went 3-for-4 with an RBI as part of Boston’s 12-hit night, pointed to Lester’s pitching as the key for the Sox taking the opener of their six-game interleague trip.

“It’s easy to feel comfortable when you get a performance like we got from Jonny,” Nava said.

What accounts for Lester’s turnaround? He didn’t get specific, other than to say the four-day All-Star break in mid-July rejuvenated him.

“I think anytime you go through some struggles, having a break helps,” Lester said. “Pitch selection or mechanics or whatever it may be at that particular time, it felt like a good mental break for me, and I felt good when I came back.”

Lester was lights-out early in the season, winning his first six decisions and posting a 2.72 ERA over his first nine starts. Then, turbulence hit.

But over the past six weeks, with Boston’s rotation still dealing with the absence of injured All-Star Clay Buchholz, Lester is doing his part to keep the Red Sox on top of the American League East.

They maintained their one-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays.

Lester, while allowing that he feels close to his early-season form, isn’t reading too much into his recent results.

“Some balls got squared up tonight and were hit right at guys,” he said. “When you’re not going so well, those balls find holes. Game plan, mindset -- nothing’s changed. I feel like some mistakes I’ve made have been hit at guys or whathever. When you go through those down periods, you feel like every time you make a mistake, it’s hit hard.”

It was a well-rounded night for the Red Sox, who jumped on two-time NL Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum (6-13) early. They scored three in the second, added single runs in the fifth and sixth, then built on their cushion with two more in the ninth.

Nava and Shane Victorino, the No. 2 hitter, each had three hits. Stephen Drew ripped a run-scoring double off the center-field wall. Leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury singled and scored in the sixth.

“When the top of our order gets on, we have the ability to create some havoc,” Farrell said.

There wasn’t much havoc required Monday in the batter’s box, thanks to what Lester had going on the pitcher’s mound.