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OAK@KC: Lester strikes out nine over six solid frames

Jon Lester has not disappointed since being acquired by the A's hours before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. With Oakland now tied atop the AL West, they'll need their new lefty to snap the club out of a tough skid against the Braves.

During his last start, he held the Royals to three runs while striking out nine to improve to 3-0 with a 2.49 ERA his new team, and he is unbeaten since June 7.

The A's have not won since that start on Tuesday, a season-worst four game losing streak, that Lester will try to snap against the Braves at Turner Field on Sunday night. With the Angels riding a four-game win streak, ending the A's current rut will be pivotal.

Atlanta has won three out of their last four games and counters with left-hander Mike Minor, who said he felt better in his last start than he had at any point this year.

He allowed three runs and eight hits in 6 2/3 innings and seemed to benefit from having his turn in the rotation skipped earlier this month due to poor performance. Minor had produced a 7.33 ERA in his previous 10 starts.

"Things were just easy," Minor said. "There was no time where I was pressured or I felt like I couldn't make a pitch or scared almost like, 'Don't miss the barrel or don't miss here.' It was one of those starts where I felt I'm kind of back where I want to be."

A's: Lowrie trying to stay in baseball shape
Jed Lowrie fielded grounders on Friday, as he tries to remain in baseball shape while on the disabled list, but avoided putting any pressure on his fractured right index finger.

The A's placed Lowrie on the DL on Thursday.

"I see him trying to do whatever he can to try to keep himself as close to game-ready as he can without overtaxing the finger," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "He just backhanded some balls and kind of rolled them in."

Braves: Venters hopes to return this season
15 months removed from his second Tommy John surgery, Jonny Venters is hoping to pitch in a Major League game this season.

Venters has been throwing off a mound for the last week at about 80 percent effort level. He is still battling some discomfort in his left elbow, but said it has not been as bothersome as it was throughout most of the 2012 season and during Spring Training in 2013.

"It's a different soreness and a different kind of pain," Venters said. "I'm trying to feel it out, trying to get over the pain really. You just got to get past it and know it's going to be sore."

Worth noting:
• Braves right-handed reliever Shae Simmons began a rehab assignment with Triple-A Gwinnett on Saturday night. In his first appearance he struck out one and allowed one hit in a scoreless inning.

Simmons, who has been sidelined since July 24 with a right shoulder strain, will likely make at least three appearances before being activated from the disabled list and placed back in Atlanta's bullpen.

• A's shortstop Nick Punto (strained right hamstring) is still doing light jogging as he attempts to work his way back from the DL.

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