By Sean McAdam
CLEVELAND -- There was little resemblance between the Jon Lester who pitched last Friday on Opening Day and the one who pitched Thursday at Progressive Field.
In the opener, Lester was rocked for three homers and, for the first time in more than three years, didn't record a single strikeout.
On Thursday, however, Lester looked much more like the pitcher who won 19 games last year, earning him the No. 1 spot in the Boston rotation this season.
He struck out nine over seven scoreless innings and limited the Indians to just three hits while walking three.
"He did a really good job," said Terry Francona. "He pitched around the leadoff double in the seventh by Shelley Duncan. He did a tremendous job. Everything was better today. He was aggressive, worked ahead in the count. He was good. That was the Lester we need."
"I was able to get some balls on the other side of the plate," said Lester, "and for the most part, get some mis-hits. I executed pitches better and was able to keep the ball down more."
Now that the Red Sox are getting better starting pitching, their offense -- or lack thereof -- is still an issue.
For the second time in three games here, they were limited to just four hits.
For the season, the Sox are hitting an anemic .181 as a team with a collective .269 on-base percentage.
They're slugging just .275 and have 10 extra-base hits. The have four homers on the season and just one over the last 38 innings.
They have five regulars hitting under .200 -- Carl Crawford (.174), Jacoby Ellsbury (.167), Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.071), Marco Scutaro (.176) and Kevin Youkilis (.105).
Three others are hitting .231 or less: J.D. Drew (.231); David Ortiz (.227) and Dustin Pedroia (.227).
Only Adrian Gonzalez (.304) is hitting better than .300.
"I'm not worried about the offense," said Lester. "We're going to score a lot of runs. It's just a matter of time. Things aren't going our way right now. We're hitting a lot of balls hard that are right at guys and when we're not hitting balls hard, they're not falling in."
Saltalamacchia had a mixed day behind the plate.
In the fourth inning, he threw out Carlos Santana attempting to steal second, marking the first time this season he had thrown anyone out trying to steal. (The Sox recorded two caught-stealings in Texas, but both were on pickoffs).
In the seventh, Saltalamacchia made a terrific catch on a bunt attempt by Austin Kearns, diving, outstretched in foul territory.
But in the fateful bottom of the eighth, Saltalamacchia air-mailed a throw into center when Adam Everett took off for second. Everett later moved to third on a sacrifice and scored the only run of the game on a suicide bunt from Asdrubal Cabrera.
Kevin Youkilis took a hot smash in the palm of his glove hand on a sinking liner by Orlando Cabrera in the third.
The Indians had runners at first and second with one out when Cabrera hit a ball that seemed to eat Youkilis up, clanging off the base of the palm, just below where the glove ends.
"The ball hooked on him and got the meat part of his hand," said Francona.
Youkilis threw quickly to second to force Everett at second, but, distracted by the sore hand, seemed to be somewhat slow in getting back into position as the Sox attempted to nail Travis Buck moving from second-to-third.
After the game, there was a welt on Youkilis's palm but he said he didn't expect it to be an issue.
The Red Sox lost out on the bidding for Cuban outfielder Leonys Martin, who signed with the Texas Rangers for a figure believed to be slightly more than 12 million.
CBS Sports.com reported that the Sox had offered Martin, an athletic center fielder, 12 million to sign, but a baseball source indicated that figure was highly inflated, suggesting the Sox' offer was more in line with what a mid-first round pick in the draft might get -- somewhere between 1.5-1.9 million.