Royals-Athletics Preview

The Associated Press

Jon Lester walked through the Oakland clubhouse doors to quite a greeting, from the snappy, patriotic marching tune blaring from the sound system to the handshakes and hellos from every corner.

And even the familiar friendly face of his former pitching coach in Boston, Curt Young.

Lester (10-7, 2.52 ERA) arrived with fanfare prior to facing the visiting Kansas City Royals on Saturday in his debut for baseball's winningest team: the small-budget Athletics (66-42), who are counting on him to be an instant ace on a rotation full of No. 1 starters and help extend their one-game lead over the surging Los Angeles Angels in the AL West.

''Obviously leaving Boston after being there for so long is at times difficult, but to be going from a team that hasn't done so well this year to a team with best record in baseball is pretty exciting,'' he said. ''Fortunately I've got a few faces here that I recognize and know pretty well, so it should make the transition pretty smooth.''

The All-Star left-hander, 4-0 with a 1.07 ERA over his last eight outings, looks to help his new team bounce back after the A's dropped their second straight contest, 1-0 to the Royals (56-52) on Friday.

For Lester, just knowing where he will be for the remainder of the season was comforting a day after being traded along with outfielder Jonny Gomes for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. On Saturday, 10,000 Cespedes T-shirts will still be distributed.

''I'm a marketing department's worst nightmare,'' A's general manager Billy Beane said.

While the A's need an offensive boost after totaling one run and nine hits in the last two games, Lester is committed to doing his part every fifth day for a franchise poised for another October playoff run if things keep going this well over the season's final two months.

''Kind of the anxiety of it, not really knowing where you're going to be and having a family makes it difficult,'' Lester said. ''To leave someplace I've called home for eight years that made it a little bit hard, but like I said, I'm happy to be here and happy to be a part of this and hope to contribute.''

An A's team Lester praises for being ''full of energy, they play the game the right way,'' is hardly one he considers to be in need of much help the way this season has gone so far in a much-improved AL West.

Yet Oakland's brass - and the players, too - believe the addition of Lester gives them an edge to not only make sure the A's reach the playoffs but to give them the best chance of advancing following consecutive five-game division series defeats to the Detroit Tigers.

''Not only is this guy well decorated in climbing the totem pole of left-handers in the game and left-handers in the postseason in the game,'' Gomes said. ''You guys don't get to see the work ethic, what goes into goes into his success, what goes into his championship pedigree, something I didn't know on the other side. It truly is a breath of fresh air to know the best pitcher on the team is also the hardest working guy on the team.''

Lester plans to complement what already is working so well.

''These guys have been in the playoffs before, they've made runs before,'' he said. ''It's not going to be anything new for a lot of these here. Hopefully with adding us we can maybe add a little more experience and on the further side of it, going deeper.

''I wouldn't consider it pressure. These guys expect to go to the playoffs every year now. It's a good atmosphere to have.''

Lester has no idea what's next beyond the 2014 season as his contract is due to expire - and he still isn't ruling out a return to the Red Sox.

''Any time you negotiate with a team and it doesn't go the way everybody wants, I think there's always going to be disappointment,'' Lester said. ''That's not to say the effort wasn't there on both sides to try to get something done.

"But my time in Boston is something that I'll always remember, always cherish, from 2002 to (Thursday). Nothing but great things to say about the organization, the way they treated me, the way they treated my family through the good times and the bad times. They were always consistent. I thanked them personally (Thursday) for everything they've done. We'll see where that relationship goes later on. Right now, I'm an 'A.'''

He allowed four hits and struck out eight in eight innings of a 6-0 victory over the Royals on July 20 to improve to 7-3 with a 1.43 ERA in 11 starts against them.

While Lester makes his Oakland debut, Jason Vargas (8-4, 3.31) returns to the Kansas City rotation after missing almost a month following an appendectomy. The left-hander went 1-1 with a 1.42 ERA in July, and yielded his only two runs in those starts over 5 2-3 innings of a 4-3 loss at Tampa Bay on July 8.

"He's a very good pitcher and we need him," teammate Bruce Chen told MLB's official website.

Raul Ibanez homered Friday to help the Royals win their third straight and eighth in 10 contests.

The left-handed hitting Ibanez is 7 for 14 in his last six games, but considering he's 1 for 37 versus lefties, likely won't be in the lineup against Lester.

Shortstop Alcides Escobar, meanwhile, has five hits and two walks in his last 12 plate appearances versus Lester.

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