In preparing for Sunday afternoon's contest against the Royals at Kauffman Stadium, Chris Sale won't give much attention to who is starting for Kansas City.
It's the American League, after all, so Sale won't have to face James Shields at the plate and Shields won't have to face Sale. But if past history serves as any indication, these pitching probables featuring respective No. 1 starters figures to produce a low-scoring series finale.
Sale and Shields were matched up in the season opener in 2013 and the White Sox came away with a 1-0 victory on Tyler Flowers' home run. Sale worked 7 2/3 innings, and Shields pitched six.
"Any time you're facing Sale, you're going to have a tough battle," Shields said.
This duo started against each other twice more last season.
On May 6 at Kansas City, neither had a decision as the White Sox won, 2-1, in the 11th. But Sale gave up just one run in 7 1/3 while Shields pitched eight scoreless innings. On Sept. 27 at U.S. Cellular Field, the Royals got to Sale for four runs in 5 1/3 and Shields got credit for the 6-1 win, giving up one run in seven innings.
The focus for Sale falls upon what he can do to help the White Sox avoid an AL Central sweep Sunday, more so than trying to outpitch Shields on a given day.
"Whether I'm pitching against the best guy in the league or statistically the worst guy, you still have to go get your job done," Sale said. "Like I've said before, the best guys give up eight and the worst guys throw shutouts.
"At any given time, it can be kind of skewed that way. Just go out and maintain a level of normalcy. I don't really worry about the other guy across the way."
White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper used to hear how he could sit back and relax whenever an ace hurler such as Mark Buehrle took the mound, which would be somewhat akin to Sale pitching, or Shields for the Royals. Cooper looks at such a start from a different, more nerve-wracking perspective.
"That was highest anxiety for me," said Cooper of when Buehrle took the mound. "You know we've got a good chance and we've got to be good here. It's important and we have a good chance to win."
White Sox: Garcia will return
Avisail Garcia figures to return to the White Sox lineup on Sunday against Shields, after getting a day of rest during Saturday afternoon's contest. Garcia entered that game with no hits in his last 13 at-bats, after starting the season 3-for-5.
In Garcia's absence, Dayan Viciedo moved from the bench to right field and Alejandro De Aza remained in left.
"He just feels out of sync a little bit at the plate," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura on his perception of Garcia's struggles. "I know Tank (Viciedo) has to play. He's got to get in there. It's a good chance with the way De Aza has been swinging lately he can stay in there, giving Avi a day to work on it in the cage."
Ventura sees a hitter in Garcia who currently is "feeling for it a lot" and not swinging with the same authority of a player who hit .304 with five homers and 21 RBIs over 42 games after the White Sox acquired him at the non-waiver trade deadline in '13. His middle-of-the-order presence is an important one to the White Sox lineup.
"It's not a real confident swing that he's had earlier," Ventura said. "I've seen him in spring looking pretty good and feeling confident. It just feels like he's tentative and feeling for it. So just give him a day in the cage to just get a good feel back and be back in there tomorrow."
Royals: Valencia a possibility
Royals manager Ned Yost didn't switch from left-handed-hitting Mike Moustakas to right-handed-hitting Danny Valencia at third base against left-hander John Danks on Saturday. That's because Danks is a "reverse split" pitcher, more effective against right-handed batters than lefties. But he said Sunday against lefty Chris Sale might be a different story.
"Sale is a totally different animal against left-handed hitters," Yost said. "So we may look to do Danny [Sunday]."
Valencia, though, has batted just twice against Sale in his career, striking out both times. There are some right-handed hitters who have done well against Sale, however: Billy Butler, 14-for-34, .412, with three homers, 10 RBIs; Alcides Escobar, 14-for-36, .389, and Salvador Perez, 9-for-29, .310.
The Royals might also try right-handed-hitting Justin Maxwell in the outfield Sunday. Maxwell, though, is 0-for-6 vs. Sale.
"We're thinking about it," Yost said.
• Sale stood as one of the quicker workers during his first start of the season on Monday, averaging only 19.4 seconds in between pitches, per FanGraphs. The southpaw looks at that fast pace as a benefit for not just himself but also his teammates.
"Especially in the weather we are pitching in now, and the same thing when it's real hot," Sale said. "Those guys are out there playing every day and you've got to get them in the dugout as quick as you can. I hate to have them out there extended periods of time."
• Alex Gordon's bases-clearing double on Friday was the fifth in his career. That tied him for the second-most three-run doubles in Royals history, matching Hal McRae. George Brett and Mike Sweeney each had eight.
• Sunday will mark the fifth straight day game for the Royals with one rained out at Detroit. Their record in afternoon games last season was 34-21. Only Oakland (39) had more daytime victories in the Majors. The Royals' first night game will be Monday against Tampa Bay, while the White Sox play their first night game out of seven Monday in Colorado.