September 08, 2014

CHICAGO -- The Chicago White Sox return home from a nine-game road trip to face the Oakland Athletics on Friday night.

The homecoming could not have arrived soon enough for the up-and-down White Sox (57-63). Manager Robin Ventura's club is coming off an uninspiring 4-5 road trip, which concluded with a ninth-inning loss Thursday night to the rival Cleveland Indians.

"Definitely an empty feeling," White Sox left-hander Carlos Rodon told the Chicago Sun-Times. "All of us are playing hard, giving 100 percent. We are leaving it all out there and it just doesn't happen."

Meanwhile, Oakland (52-69) has lost five consecutive games, including a three-game sweep at the hands of the Texas Rangers earlier this week. The Athletics have scored two runs or fewer in seven of the last 13 games, and their minus-104 run differential is worst in the American League.

With the postseason well out of reach, Oakland has turned its focus toward developing its young talent in the final stretch of the season. Earlier this week, the Athletics promoted infield prospect Chad Pinder from Triple-A Nashville. Pinder hit .258 with 14 home runs and 51 RBIs in 107 games in the minor leagues this season and could see time at second base, shortstop and third base.

"He swings the bat well, has got some power, and we saw that in spring," Oakland manager Bob Melvin told "It's great that he gets an opportunity."

Right-hander James Shields (5-14, 5.78 ERA) will start for Chicago. The 34-year-old is mired in the worst statistical season of his career -- and one of the most bizarre seasons in the majors.

In four starts from May 31 to June 18, Shields surrendered a mind-boggling 31 earned runs in 11 1/3 innings to go 1-3 with a 24.62 ERA. He recovered nicely in his next seven starts, during which time he posted a 2.11 ERA and limited hitters to a .215 batting average.

Then the bottom fell out yet again. In his past three starts, opponents have rocked Shields for 21 earned runs in 9 1/3 innings. He is 1-2 with a 20.25 ERA during that span.

Will Friday's start mark the start of another turnaround? Or yet another disastrous outing?

Shields has fared well against the Athletics in his career. In 15 starts, he is 6-4 with a 3.82 ERA. He has not faced Oakland since 2014, when he went 1-0 with a 3.21 ERA in two starts as a member of the Kansas City Royals.

For Oakland, right-hander Kendall Graveman (8-8, 4.37 ERA) will make his 24th start of the season. The 25-year-old Mississippi State alum is trending in a much better direction than Shields. He is 7-2 with a 3.83 ERA in his past 14 starts after opening the year 1-6 with a 5.36 ERA. However, Graveman gave up four runs in six innings to sustain the loss in his most recent outing Saturday against the Seattle Mariners.

Graveman has faced the White Sox once in his career. He drew the loss after allowing two runs on three hits in 5 1/3 innings on April 7. White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu stung Graveman for a two-run home run in the sixth inning that day.

Abreu will look to feast against Graveman once again Friday night. The White Sox slugger has hit safely in 13 of his 15 games in August, including six multiple-hit performances.

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