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Rotation could be the difference for Red Sox

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  August 24, 2013 10:29 PM

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LOS ANGELES — The Red Sox beat the Los Angeles Dodgers today, 4-2, during a beautiful day for baseball.

But with the Rays beating the Yankees, the Sox remain percentage points behind Tampa Bay in the division.

Concerned? Take heart at these two developments:

• Jon Lester took a three-hit shutout into the eighth inning against the hottest team in baseball. He was charged with one run but again pitched well.

The big lefty is 4-1 with a 2.31 earned run average in his last seven starts. Lester has given up four earned runs in his last 29 innings and one in his last 15.2.

“Whether or not he’s catching a second wind here in the second half of the season could very well be,” manager John Farrell said. “I think most importantly is his command and power to the fastball. That sets up everything for him.”

Lester's fastball topped out at 96 today and was still 94 into the eighth. His return to form is a very good sign for the Sox.

• Clay Buchholz starts his rehab assignment on Sunday. He could return to the Sox on Sept. 4 or by Sept. 9. That's four or five starts down the stretch.

An improved Lester and a healthy Buchholz gives the Red Sox a formidable rotation when you add in John Lackey, Jake Peavy, and Felix Doubront.

A few other notes:

• You can make a pretty decent case that Koji Uehara is the MVP of the Sox. He has pitched 20.2 consecutive scoreless innings and since becoming the closer in June has a 0.32 ERA and 0.43 WHIP. Opponents are 10 of their last 93 against him with 37 strikeouts.

The four-out save today was the second in Uehara’s career, the first since 2010. That out he got to end the eighth inning was one of the biggest of the season.

• Jonny Gomes has 18 RBIs in his last 24 games. His three-run homer in the first inning was a big hit after Friday's shutout. Gomes's ability to sit then deliver big hits from the middle of the order is impressive.

• Mike Napoli revealed that he had an injection in his left foot a week ago that has alleviated much of the pain he was experiencing because of plantar fasciitis.

The question now is whether Napoli can be a productive player over the final 31 games of the season. That he was 3 for 4 with an RBI was certainly a positive sign.

Napoli was in the starting lineup for the first time since Aug. 16. He came into the game hitting .206 since July 1 with a .743 OPS. Since Aug 1, the first baseman was hitting .146.

The three-hit game was his first since June 1. Napoli also nimbly completed a double play in the first inning, grabbing a line drive and touching the bag before Yasiel Puig could get back.

“I know I have to pick it up. Nobody realizes that more than I do,” Napoli said. “I’ve done everything I can to figure it out.”

• Xander Bogaerts entered the game on a double switch in the eighth inning and got to the plate in the ninth. He collected his first career hit with a single off Brandon League. “Hopefully a lot of people from Aruba saw it and hopefully the first of many more,” Bogaerts said.

• With Bogaerts on first base and one out, Jacoby Ellsbury grounded to first base. Adrian Gonzalez threw to second for the force and there was no return throw. But Ellsbury walked back toward the dugout after taking his hit helmet off. Hanley Ramirez came from shortstop to tag him.

“Yes,” Farrell said when asked whether Ellsbury lost track of how many outs there were.

Ellsbury was not so quick to acknowledge his obvious mistake.

“I just peeled off and I started walking back and saw Hanley run at me. I still thought I had a base,” he said. “Either way, I thought I was safe.”

When pressed, Ellsbury admitted he lost track of the outs.

“For a split second,” he said.

• When Napoli collected an infield hit off Brian Wilson in the eighth inning, it was a clash of two notable beards. “I got a hit. Did my beard win?” Napoli asked.

• The Sox could activate lefthander Matt Thornton off the disabled list on Sunday. He has been out with an oblique strain since Aug. 5.

• The win was the first at Dodger Stadium for the Sox in four games against the Dodgers. But they beat the Angels at Dodger Stadium on July 31, 1965.

• Reliever Daniel Bard remains on the 40-man roster but hasn’t pitched since May 15 because of control problems and has been at the team complex in Florida since being taken off the Portland roster. Farrell knew of no plans for Bard to pitch in a game and acknowledged there was little chance he would return to the majors this season.

See BostonGlobe.com on Sunday for much more on the game.

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