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OAK@TEX: Gray records his first career shutout

In seeking a three-game sweep of the A's at Fenway Park on Sunday, the Red Sox will have to go through ace Sonny Gray in the matinee.

Righty John Lackey will pitch for Boston.

Gray is coming off his first career shutout, a three-hit, six-strikeout performance in Texas on Monday. The 24-year-old righty, second in the American League with a 1.76 ERA, will be making his first start at Fenway Park.

He's 4-1 through his first six outings.

"He has fun with this. He loves playing baseball. He loves pitch day," said A's manager Bob Melvin. "And these are the special things for young players, to come into venues like this -- especially if you have a sense of history. It's that much more fun."

Lackey is coming off a superb performance against the Rays at Fenway Park, where he gave up two runs on six hits and a walk with five strikeouts over eight innings in a 7-4 victory. He improved to 4-2, lowering his ERA from 4.22 to 3.83.

The Boston right-hander has pitched gems in each of his last two starts, going a combined 16 innings, allowing three runs on 13 hits and a walk with 16 strikeouts.

It's the first time in a Red Sox uniform Lackey has worked at least eight innings in consecutive games, and seventh time in his career. The last time he did so was Aug. 30 and Sept. 19, 2009, while with the Angels. He has struck out at least five batters in each of his six starts, his longest such streak to start a season.

"I try to be aggressive," Lackey said. "I try to work fast. I'm trying to get guys back in the dugout."

"John hates to walk guys, and other teams know that," Red Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "So he has to put the ball in good locations in order to get guys to swing and get guys to make outs. ... He's been trying to get quick outs, and he's been doing that.

"The biggest thing about John is almost just trying to keep him under control and keep his emotions in check, because the biggest thing for him is not to get mad or get frustrated and just stay focused on the task. And when he does that, he's as good as anybody."

A's: Bullpen expected to be near full strength on Sunday

Despite using four relievers in Friday's game and three on Saturday, after getting just 8 1/3 combined innings from its starters, Oakland's bullpen is expected to be in decent shape for the series finale.

Its biggest weapon these days is lefty Fernando Abad, who hasn't given up a run over his first 12 outings, spanning 11 2/3 innings. He's struck out 14 of the 41 batters he's faced.

Left-handers are hitless with eight strikeouts in 14 at-bats this year against Abad, who has handled righties just fine, too. They're 2-for-23 (.087) off the confident lefty, who could begin seeing more complete innings because of his continued success against hitters from both sides of the plate.

"He is fearless when he's out there, very confident in his stuff -- and it shows," said Melvin. "And there's something to that. If you're seeing it, the hitter's seeing it, too. There are some guys out there that have some trepidation, and I think hitters sense that, too. Other guys are very confident when they go out there, no matter what the situation is, and he exudes that."

Red Sox: Offense showing signs of life

From the time Red Sox manager John Farrell was questioned about his club's struggles hitting with runners in scoring position, his team has hit two grand slams -- one in each of the first two games of this series.

Through their first 29 games, the Red Sox's inability to capitalize on opportunities had become glaringly apparent, with the team hitting just .223 with runners in scoring positions.

Over the last two days, that number has slightly improved, after a 4-for-17 showing.

"The most important thing," said Farrell, "is that we are doing a good job to create the opportunities."

Worth noting

• Josh Donaldson was hit by a pitch in the ninth inning on Saturday, extending his on-base streak to 25 games -- three games shy of his career high. The A's third baseman is hitting .311, with seven home runs and 23 RBIs over that span.

• The Red Sox are 3-0 this season when Jonny Gomes, who hit a grand slam on Saturday, hits a home run.

• Boston's Mike Napoli has reached base in 28 of 29 games this season, including a career-high 26 since April 4.

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