Jon Lester has typified the play of the Boston Red Sox - occasional flashes of brilliance mixed with maddening inconsistency.
The defending champs try to get back on track once more Thursday night when they open a four-game series at Fenway Park against the Cleveland Indians.
A 15-game winner and vital cog in winning the World Series last year, Lester's uneven season continued Sunday at Detroit, where he was tagged for five runs and a career high-tying 12 hits in 4 1-3 innings of an 8-6 defeat. Lester (6-7, 3.52), who scattered four hits and a walk in seven innings of a 4-0 win over Tampa Bay on June 1, has allowed four or more runs five times in his 13 starts.
"For whatever reason, stuff just wasn't there," a confounded Lester told the team's official website. "Didn't have the power, didn't have command, curveball was loopy. I felt like, from the first throw in warmups to the last pitch on the mound, I just wasn't good."
Those inconsistencies have also been evident at Fenway, where he's 2-4. In four of those starts, he's yielded five runs in 27 1-3 innings, but 15 in 11 innings over the other two.
Lester can draw some optimism from pitching well versus Cleveland, going 6-1 with a 3.43 ERA in 13 lifetime starts. He went 1-0 in two starts against the Indians last year. Nick Swisher, who continued his rehab assignment for a hyperextended left knee Wednesday and could be activated for this game, is 17 for 53 with seven doubles and two homers all-time versus Lester, and Asdrubal Cabrera is 7 for 21.
Boston (29-36) dropped two of three at Baltimore after Wednesday night's 6-0 loss - scoring one run in the series - and completed a 2-7 road trip that opened with a three-game sweep by the Indians in Cleveland. That completely wiped out any momentum the Red Sox had after entering that swing on a seven-game win streak.
''We haven't been swinging the bats good,'' Dustin Pedroia said. ''It seems like when we do hit the ball well it's right at somebody or we get a rally going and we find a way to stop it quick.''
Cleveland (33-33) heads to Fenway with its own consistency issues after losing a pair of games at Kansas City, including a 4-1 defeat Wednesday. The Indians, who had won nine of their previous 10, gave up all four runs via sacrifice flies.
Josh Tomlin (4-2, 3.12) is trying to win consecutive starts and build on a solid outing as he continues a successful return from Tommy John surgery. He lasted a season-high eight-plus innings Sunday at Texas, yielding three runs and seven hits in an 8-3 victory.
"Just being healthy and being able to go out there and compete, that's the main thing," Tomlin told the Indians' official website. "Being able to throw offspeed stuff for a strike when I needed to and then being able to bury it too when I need to as well."
Tomlin, who is 1-1 with a 7.17 ERA in three starts and four games lifetime versus Boston, has held David Ortiz hitless in eight at-bats. Dustin Pedroia, however, is 3 for 7 and both Mike Napoli and A.J. Pierzynski have homered off him.
Indians third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall is seeking his sixth straight multihit game and is 18 for 35 (.514) with four homers and 16 RBIs during his career-high nine-game hitting streak. He is batting .393, which would easily lead the majors, but does not have enough plate appearances to qualify.