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MIN@OAK: Lester strikes out eight in shutout win

Jon Lester knows why the A's acquired him. He knows they gave up a lot to get him. He understands that there are lofty expectations on his shoulders.

And so far, he's lived up to them.

He's made two starts for Oakland since he was acquired from the Red Sox before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, and the left-hander has won both of them.

He delivered a quality start in his debut, holding the Royals to three runs in 6 2/3 innings, and he threw perhaps his finest outing of the season on Thursday against the Twins, allowing just three hits in a shutout. Overall, he's 2-0 with a 1.72 ERA in his brief time with Oakland.

"We all know what [Yoenis] Cespedes did for this organization and how well he's liked," said Lester of the player Oakland dealt to acquire him from Boston. "Just coming over here, you don't want to screw that up. You want to make the trade look like it had a purpose and it was good. You don't want to come in halfway through the year after these guys have been battling their butts off to be in first place and screw that up."

Lester will face the same Royals team he defeated in his Oakland debut. He's 2-0 against them this season with a 1.84 ERA.

But it's a hot Kansas City team he'll be facing, a team that has won eight straight games and 11 out of its last 12 and has wrestled the American League Central lead away from the Tigers.

"They seem to do this once or twice a year and, lot of times, it's when you catch them," Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. "So you know it's going to be a battle this week. It almost feels like the last couple years, they've gone on streaks like this. You can see why. They have a starting pitcher every day they're going to feel good about, and a backend of a bullpen that's probably as good as any at this point. You look around the middle of the order, some of the speed guys at the top and the bottom, you can understand the streak they're on right now."

The Royals will send right-hander Jeremy Guthrie to the mound, who is 8-9 with a 4.35 ERA on the season and has won his last three starts. And the Royals will also trot out a lineup that will pack more power than the last time Lester faced them.

On Monday, the Royals dealt pitching prospect Jason Adam to the Twins for Josh Willingham -- a former Athletics outfielder -- adding some punch to the middle of the order.

"He'll be in the lineup most days as we're set up right now. [Manager Ned Yost] will ultimately make that call and how it matches up," general manager Dayton Moore said. "But we see his presence in the middle of our lineup somewhere and a presence that can get some big hits for us. He had a big hit [Sunday], actually, against Oakland. So he's a professional and a winner."

Royals: Cain tops in team average
Outfielder Lorenzo Cain, a .266 hitter though 2013, is leading Royals regulars this season with a .301 average.

"He's hitting the ball to all fields a little better than he did last year, I think. He's still got so much ceiling as a hitter," Yost said.

"He was a late bloomer-type offensive player. He's got really good strength, he's a solid, line-drive, gap-to-gap hitter. But this year he's incorporated his speed more, he's gotten more infield hits, he's hitting the ball to right field more. And when he gets hold of one, he can really drive it."

Cain doesn't hit many homers (three) but has 21 doubles and three triples and is noted for his sizzling line drives.

"When he gets into one, he can hit a line drive as hard as anybody on this team. You watch during batting practice, you can see pure power during batting practice," Yost said. "Salvador [Perez] just launches vicious line drives and Cain's right there with him. The ball really jumps off his bat when he really centers it up. It's like it's 12 feet off the ground all the way to the wall. It doesn't quite make it but it looks like it's going to make it."

Athletics: Vogt adds value beyond catching
A lingering bone bruise in his right foot has prevented the A's Stephen Vogt from catching duties for more than a month, and it's unlikely he returns to them by season's end. That hasn't stopped him from contributing in other ways.

Vogt, batting .315 on the year, made his 20th start at first base on Monday in Kansas City, and he says he's made enough progress at the position to the point where he feels like he could be there on an everyday basis.

"But I don't want to lose the ability to play everywhere," he said.

That's what makes him so valuable to this team, even when he can't catch.

"We have to find a way to get his bat in the lineup, and based on how he's swung the bat since he's been here, to be able to put him in different positions, it's great," said Melvin. "It's not something, when we first brought him over I would've expected, but then you look back and see some of the positions he has played in the past, he's fit right in."

Worth noting:
• Guthrie is 4-4 with a 4.29 ERA in 11 career appearances (10 starts) against Oakland.

• Willingham is a familiar face for the A's. He spent one season in Oakland in 2011, batting .246 with 298 home runs and 98 RBIs before joining Minnesota in 2012. Comments