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Lester set for return against Royals

Jul 25, 2011 - 2:59 PM (Sports Network) - Jon Lester didn't allow a hit in his last start.

Unfortunately, that superb outing was cut short after four innings because of the strained lat muscle in his left side that eventually landed him on the disabled list.

But the left-hander is pain-free now and will make his first start since July 5 when the Red Sox open up a four-game series on Monday against the Kansas City Royals at Fenway.

Lester was cruising against Toronto almost three weeks ago when he suffered the injury. Although he didn't think it was anything serious after the game, an MRI the next day revealed the strain and he was placed on the 15-day DL shortly thereafter.

The 27-year-old, who is 10-4 this season with a 3.31 earned run average, has been raring to go. He actually wanted to pitch last Friday, the first day he was eligible to be activated off the DL.

"We're just trying to ramp him up and let him get strong," manager Terry Francona said. "He feels nothing [there], which is great. That's what we wanted. Now it's just the idea of getting him back to where he will go out there and start a game and not be so limited that he can only go out and throw 50 pitches."

Lester, who pitched a pain-free bullpen session on Wednesday, is expected to be limited to around 80-90 pitches in his first start back.

"That's not shorting him too much," Francona said. "That might be shorting him an inning."

Lester has had little trouble with the Royals over the course of his career, going 4-1 in five starts against them with a 1.22 earned run average. The minuscule ERA is the best among hurlers with at least five starts against the Royals since 2006, and second all time against the club (minimum five starts) behind Chad Ogea (1.08).

He's won all four of his starts against the Royals in Boston, allowing just one run in 32 innings of those outings (0.28 ERA).

Kyle Davies, meanwhile, will go for the Royals in Monday's opener, as he tries to put the brakes on a personal eight-game losing streak.

His most recent setback came last Monday when the White Sox reached him for four runs (two earned) and five hits in 5 1/3 innings. He struck out a season- high nine batters, but fell to 1-9 on the year to go along with a 7.32 ERA.

"I was trying to pitch on both sides of the plate and not be so predictable, but it needs to be a little bit better than that," Davies said.

While Davies owns a 2-0 lifetime mark against Boston, he could have his hands full trying to slow down a potent Red Sox lineup that has produced the most runs in the league this season, including 22 in a three-game sweep of the Mariners over the weekend.

Boston scored 10 or more runs 14 times, all in a 56-game stretch since May 20. No other team has reached double digits more than seven times in that span.

Davies has gotten the best of Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who is in the midst of a career-best 21-game hitting streak, but has failed to get a hit in five at-bats versus Davies.

Pedroia has also reached base safely in a personal-best 33 consecutive games. That run is the longest by a Red Sox second baseman since Jerry Remy did so in 37 contests in a row from April 20-June 1, 1979.

The Red Sox narrowly eked out a 4-3 series win against Kansas City last season. Despite splitting the four games at Fenway, the Red Sox have actually won nine of the last 12 at home against the Royals.