Parker, Lackey kick off series in battle of AL titans
Jarrod Parker is 4-0 with a 2.24 ERA in his last eight starts, but the A's have lost his last three. (AP)
After a disappointing start, John Lackey feels like he's throwing the ball as well as any time during his successful career.
The right-hander hopes for another strong start while trying to help the Boston Red Sox avoid a seventh consecutive road loss to the Oakland Athletics in a matchup of division leaders Friday night.
Returning from elbow surgery that erased his entire 2012 season and a biceps strain that sidelined him for most of April, Lackey started 1-4 with a 4.05 ERA. Since then, he's 5-2 with a 2.30 ERA in 10 starts.
"It's probably the best first half I've had," said the 34-year-old Lackey, who possibly forgot about going 11-5 with a 2.91 ERA before the break in 2007.
Lackey (6-6, 2.80) lost for the first time in seven starts Sunday, allowing two solo homers among five hits and striking out nine in seven innings of a 3-0 defeat to the Los Angeles Angels.
"John's pitching as well as he has I think at any point in time in his career - and that's not to shortchange anything he did early on," manager John Farrell said. "But he's in a very good place right now."
Lackey is 18-6 with a 2.91 ERA in 33 starts against the Athletics (54-38), going 8-5 with a 2.85 ERA in 17 outings in Oakland. He's dropped two straight there despite a 2.77 ERA.
The AL East-leading Red Sox (57-37) scored 30 runs to win the final three of a four-game set at Seattle, coming away with an 8-7, 10-inning victory Thursday after trailing by four runs early.
"We continue to grind away and play it right to the last out," Farrell said.
Boston took two of three at home from the A's in May but has dropped 16 of 20 at Oakland and been outscored 45-10 during its slide there.
Jacoby Ellsbury is batting .413 with two homers and 11 RBIs during his AL-high 19-game hitting streak, but he's 4 for 34 in his last nine at Oakland.
Teammate Daniel Nava's only hit in six at-bats Thursday drove home the go-ahead run with two outs in the 10th. He's hit .375 in his last seven games but is 3 for 17 on the road against the A's.
Owner of a one-game lead over Texas in the AL West, Oakland has won 10 of 14 overall and 18 of 22 at home. The A's lost 5-0 at Pittsburgh on Wednesday to conclude a 4-2 trip.
Coco Crisp had three hits in that game but is batting .156 (5 for 32) with two homers against Lackey.
Third baseman Josh Donaldson went 5 for 9 with three doubles and four RBIs at Boston in May.
Scheduled Oakland starter Jarrod Parker (6-6, 4.04) went 2-0 with a 1.35 ERA against the Red Sox last season.
The right-hander is 4-0 with a 2.24 ERA in his last eight starts, but the A's have totaled seven runs while losing his last three. After leaving his previous outing with hamstring tightness, Parker allowed three runs in 6 1-3 innings of a 4-3 loss at Kansas City on Saturday.
"I'm semi-happy with the health stuff," Parker told the Athletics' official website. "It felt OK. I'd be lying if I told you it didn't affect my stuff though."