The suddenly reeling Athletics will look to get back on track in Friday's series opener against the Royals, though it won't be an easy task against Royals ace James Shields.
Shields will take the hill at O.co Coliseum having turned in six consecutive quality starts and back-to-back eight-inning performances. Yet, with little run support, Shields has gone winless in those two outings and sits at just 2-3 on the season, even with his superb 2.48 ERA.
In his most recent trip to the mound, Shields took the loss against the Yankees on Saturday despite allowing just two earned runs (three total) over his eight frames. It was one mistake -- serving up a two-run homer to Vernon Wells -- that cost Shields, but the ace made no excuses afterwards.
"You've got to pitch better. That's it," Shields said following the 3-2 loss.
Shields' teammates, meanwhile, gave the righty more credit and faulted their lack of run support as the reason for the loss. Though Wells delivered the decisive blow off Shields, he agreed with that assessment.
"Typical James Shields, changing speeds," Wells said. "He had a good fastball, too, that made his offspeed stuff be even more effective. Luckily, he fell behind me and had to throw fastballs, but he's as good as they come. He's 'Big Game James' for a reason."
While Shields looks to pick up the pieces from that hard-luck loss his last time out, A's right-hander Jarrod Parker will be looking to build off one of his best starts of the year.
Parker returned to the mound on Saturday after an ongoing neck strain had forced him to leave his previous start early. That same neck injury could be partially to blame for the 24-year-old starting the season 1-5 with a 7.34 ERA prior to Saturday's encouraging outing, in which he allowed three runs on just three hits over 6 1/3 pain-free innings against the Mariners.
"We want to get him on a roll," Athletics manager Bob Melvin said. "One good start is one thing, but we'd like to see him get on a roll. [After] losing a few in a row, that was the type of performance we needed from him."
Royals: The perfect lineup?
Alex Gordon was moved to the No. 3 position in the lineup seven games ago. He's hitting .429 (12-for-28), while collecting multiple hits five times.
With Gordon hitting third, Billy Butler has dropped to the cleanup spot. Butler hasn't put away the broom: In seven games, he has 10 RBIs and is hitting .345 (10-for-29).
The Royals have averaged 5.4 runs per game since making the adjustment.
Athletics: Crisp's return gives offense boost
Outfielder Coco Crisp returned from the disabled list on Wednesday, reassuming his leadoff role atop the A's lineup.
Crisp, sidelined since April 30 with a left hamstring strain, went 0-for-3 but drove in a run on a sacrifice fly in his return. The speedy center fielder has accounted for eight of Oakland's 26 stolen bases this season, and the A's sport a 15-12 record with Crisp in the lineup compared to a 5-10 mark in games he doesn't start.
"We always feel good when Coco's in the lineup," manager Bob Melvin said. "We play a little differently when he's not in there. Not only is he an impact guy for us, he gets clutch hits for us. He really is kind of that guy that starts the engine."
• Athletics infielder Jed Lowrie is a career .071 hitter against Shields, logging just one hit in 14 career at-bats against the righty.
• Oakland is 15-7 against American League West opponents this season and just 5-15 against the rest of the league, including 1-6 versus the AL Central.
• The Royals and Tigers will be playing a five-game series that could have playoff implications, with the first game beginning on Aug. 16, when a rescheduled rainout from April 23 will kick off the series.
• Elliot Johnson was hitting .118 as recent as April 29, but has since raised his average to .302. He had two hits and stole his fourth base of the season on Wednesday night.
Paul Casella is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.