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OAK@TEX: Kazmir fires five frames of two-run ball

After managing just four runs against buzzsaws Sonny Gray and Jon Lester, the Royals draw the Athletics' leader in ERA, Scott Kazmir, on Sunday.

Kazmir (2.37 ERA) has posted 15 quality starts in 21 tries, and he has given up more than three runs only twice. One of those outings was against the Mets on June 24, when he allowed seven runs in three innings. This start stands out as the anomaly in his string of recent brilliance. Kazmir has allowed two runs or fewer in 10 of his last 11 starts dating back to May 23.

Kazmir is coming off a win in his last outing on Sunday against the Rangers. He allowed two runs in five innings and improved to 12-3 on the season. He owns a 1.44 ERA in his last five starts.

Kazmir has not faced the Royals yet this season, but he is 4-5 with a 5.15 ERA against Kansas City in 15 career starts.

James Shields will aim for the Royals' ninth win in 12 games and fourth series victory in a row on Sunday.

Shields dropped his last decision in the Royals' 2-1 loss to the Twins on Tuesday. He only allowed two runs (one earned) in six innings, but he gave up six hits and four walks, elevating his pitch count to a season-high 124 pitches, just two shy of his career high.

"We got outpitched and outplayed. That's about all I've got to say about it," Shields said after the game. "I didn't have my best stuff today. I tried to keep the team in the game as long as I could and it just wasn't enough."

After a rough June, Shields has bounced back in July, posting a 2.63 ERA with 38 strikeouts over 37 2/3 innings.

Athletics: Offense comes to life
Oakland's bats woke up Saturday after 20 scoreless innings, dating back to Thursday.

The Athletics touched Jason Vargas for seven runs in the fifth inning after he set down the first 12 batters he faced.

Oakland scored just one run on Wednesday in an 8-1 loss to the Astros, then was shut out by the Royals on Friday.

Saturday's win pushed their run differential to 166. That figure now places the 2014 squad in third place in team history with 53 games remaining.

Royals: Chen to the bullpen
Bruce Chen's latest stint in the rotation lasted three starts.

Chen was thrust back into the rotation on July 13 after Vargas hit the disabled list, but he returned to a relief role upon Vargas' return. Chen threw the final two scoreless innings of Kansas City's loss on Saturday. The left-hander allowed one hit and fanned one batter.

Chen started four games in April before an injury sent him to the disabled list.

He adds much-needed relief to a taxed bullpen. Chen's most valuable trait will be his ability to work as a long reliever or spot starter in case of injury.

Worth noting
• With Alex Gordon's double on Saturday, he is two hits away from his 1,000th career hit.

• Oakland's Jesse Chavez made his first appearance out of the bullpen this season on Saturday, throwing one scoreless inning. Chavez started 21 games and posted a 3.44 ERA in '14, but the acquisitions of Lester, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel moved him to the bullpen. Comments