By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
MINNEAPOLIS -- Jon Lester sports one of the best winning percentages of any active pitcher in the big leagues, so when he loses back-to-back starts, it's noteworthy.
Lester, who lost to the Yankees last Friday in the series opener with New York, suffered another defeat Wednesday, charged with four runs in 7 13 innings in the Sox' 5-2 setback to the Minnesota Twins.
A big issue for Lester was command -- or lack thereof. He issued five walks, tying a season high, and two of the five hitters he walked came around to score.
"I feel like I had pretty good stuff," said Lester, "but I wasn't able to locate. I gave them too many opportunities and when you do that, giving up runs is what happens."
Beyond the walks, Lester wasn't able to consistently locate his pitches within the strike zone where he wanted them. He left a pitch up to Jim Thome, his last batter of the night, and the lefty slugger drove it for a run-scoring double, giving the Twins a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
"At times, I didn't know where the pitch was going," said Lester. "It was one of those grinders tonight and we came out on the other end.
"Free passes, free runners and more opportunities. It doesn't matter what team it is in the big leagues, if you give them more opportunities, they're going to score runs."
Lester labored from the first inning, when he gave up three hits, a walk and a run. He was more efficient from the second through the fifth, facing the minimum number of hitters in each of those four frames before control issues surfaced against in the sixth, seventh and eighth.
"He really picked it up after the first," said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. "Just getting ahead of hitters was what we had trouble with. It's a feel thing. I think he did a great job fighting. On a positive note, he battled through it and still got us into the eighth inning."
When Terry Francona pinch-hit Dustin Pedroia for Josh Reddick in the top of the eighth inning, he decided to leave Pedroia in the game at second and shift Mike Aviles -- who had started at second in place of Pedroia, who had the night off -- to right field, rather that have Aviles remain at second with Darnell McDonald in right.
The move seemed to backfire in the bottom of the inning when Terry Plouffe lofted a fly ball to right with one out and two on.
Aviles, who hadn't played a game in the outfield as a pro until last Saturday, broke in for a second, then couldn't catch up as the ball landed behind him, on the warning track, for a run-scoring single.
As evidence of how catchable the ball appeared to be, both baserunners advanced only a base, believing that Aviles would make the play.
"It's a big outfield," said Francona. "That's part of the experience. I don't think it's so much the moving around as much as it is the depth position and things like that."
For the first time in more than two months, Pedroia was out of the starting lineup.
Having played every game since June 9, when he left a Red Sox-Yankees series in New York to have his ailing knee examined in Boston, he was given the night off . . . for a while, anyway. He did enter the game as a pinch-hitter in the eighth, and stayed in at second base.
Pedroia's season has turned around since that day off June 9. In that two-month stretch, covering 53 games prior to Wednesday night -- or almost exactly, one-third of the season -- Pedroia had a line of .376.447.664 an OPS of 1.071. He had 11 homers and 38 RBI in that span.
From June 15 through Tuesday, Pedroia led the majors in hits, on-base percentage, OPS and total bases.
"He needed it, though," said Francona. "I kept telling him the last few days he was going to sit in the series finale and he was fighting me. Then last night, after the game, he was like, 'Yeah, I'm tired.'
"It will be good for him. It's just hard to go back, once you go too far with a tired player. This will be good for him.
"He needs a little blow. He won't have the game hanging over his head and he can relax a little bit."
Despite Wednesday's loss, the Red Sox' road record of 35-22 (.614) is best in the American League and second-best in the majors, behind the Phillies' 36-22.
Take away the team's 0-7 start away from Fenway, and the Sox are an incredible 35-15 (.700) on the road.
"I know in the past," said Francona, "there were places that were tough for us. We didn't have a lot of team speed and we'd go into the Metrodome, Toronto . . . places like Tampa, or big fields and we'd get exposed a little bit.
"I think our bullpen has helped. On the road, if you don't have a deep bullpen, you're going to lose some games. I think guys like Alfredo Aceves and Matt Albers have helped us a ton there. And we're more athletic and faster than we used to be."
Outfielder J.D. Drew took 35 swings in the cage and will take batting practice on the field both Friday and Saturday in Seattle.
He'll be re-evalauted when the Sox return for a brief three- game homestand. It's possible that when the Sox leave for Kansas City next week for an eight-game road swing, Drew could go to Pawtucket and begin a rehab assignment.