Preview: Shields looks to get Royals back on track

(AP) — The Texas Rangers appear to be back on track offensively. Staying that way could prove to be a challenge against one of the toughest starters in the league.

The AL West-leading Rangers try for their third straight win and fourth in a row at home when they face James Shields and the road-weary Kansas City Royals on Saturday.

Since totaling 10 runs during a three-game losing streak, Texas (34-20) has scored 16 in the past two contests.

Nelson Cruz hit a tiebreaking three-run homer in the third inning of Friday’s 7-2 win over the Royals (22-30), who had played until 3:14 a.m. Central Time at St. Louis a night earlier.

“The offense is going to do their part as long as I do mine,” winning pitcher Derek Holland said. “And our guys came back and did what they’re capable of doing, get some runs.”

Adrian Beltre went 4 for 4 with his 11th homer and is hitting .413 with five homers and 16 RBIs in his past 18 games. The third baseman, however, is 9 for 39 (.231) with 17 strikeouts against Shields (2-6, 2.96 ERA), though four of his hits in the matchup went for extra bases.

Shields has lost four straight starts, receiving seven runs of support in that span. The right-hander posted a 2.35 ERA in the first three losses before turning in his worst outing of the season Monday, allowing six runs and five walks in six innings of a 6-3 defeat to St. Louis.

The Royals have scored three or fewer runs for him in nine of his 11 starts.

“I don’t care about run support,” Shields said after his latest start. “I care about my pitching. I didn’t do my job and it resulted in an `L’.”

Shields is 7-3 with a 2.78 ERA in 11 career starts against the Rangers. He’s given up one run in 16 innings while striking out 16 over his last two matchups, going 1-1.

He has handled Texas hitters Cruz (2 for 11), Mitch Moreland (2 for 17), David Murphy (4 for 21) and A.J. Pierzynski (7 for 33).

Elvis Andrus, however, is 11 for 23 with four extra-base hits off of Shields.

The Rangers’ Nick Tepesch (3-4, 3.88) will make his first career start against the Royals. Since allowing 11 runs over 10 2-3 innings in losing back-to-back starts, Tepesch has gone 1-1 with a 2.70 ERA in three outings.

He yielded two runs in 5 2-3 innings of a 4-3, 13-inning loss at Seattle on Sunday.

Tepesch will be facing a Kansas City team that’s averaged 2.2 runs while losing nine of 10.

“That’s part of the reason we’ve been struggling a little bit,” manager Ned Yost said.

Alex Gordon, the team’s leading hitter at .329, went 0 for 4 in the opener and is batting .206 with one extra-base hit over his last nine games.