Rich Harden has been pleased with the improvement he’s made in recent weeks.
The 21-year-old right-hander was winless in four starts before pitching seven strong innings in a 4-3 win over the Devil Rays on Sunday. He struck out a career-high 10 while allowing three runs and five hits.
He credited his improvement to extra work with pitching coach Rick Peterson between starts.
“All the work I’ve been putting in has been helping me out a lot,” Harden said. “It makes me feel a lot better.”
The A’s won 10 straight before losing their last two games to the Baltimore Orioles. They were outscored 16-5 in those games, including a 7-5 loss on Thursday.
“We just won 10 games in a row, so we’ve got some leeway. It’s all right,” said A’s third baseman Eric Chavez, who tied a career high with four hits Thursday.
The Devil Rays, who were swept by the A’s in three games at Network Associates Coliseum last weekend, return home after taking two of three from the Seattle Mariners.
Thursday’s 1-0 win over Seattle allowed Oakland to retain its two-game lead over the Mariners in the AL West.
Jorge Sosa pitched a four-hitter for Tampa Bay, one day after Doug Waechter threw a two-hitter in a 7-0 win. It was the first time the Devil Rays have posted consecutive complete-game shutouts in their six-year history.
“Two wonderful games,” Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella said. “It shows you, if you make pitches, you focus, you concentrate and trust your stuff, you can do these sort of things. Both excellent ballgames.”
Damian Rolls’ RBI double in the second inning accounted for Tampa Bay’s only run on Thursday. The Devil Rays lost four straight and 10 of 12 before the last two games.
STANDINGS: Athletics - 1st place, AL West. Devil Rays - 5th place, 29 GB, AL East.
ATHLETICS PROBABLE STARTER: Harden (4-3, 4.26 ERA). Before beating the Devil Rays on Sunday, Harden was 0-3 with a 8.19 ERA in his previous three starts.
DEVIL RAYS PROBABLE STARTER: Rob Bell (3-3, 5.45 ERA). Bell has gone at least six innings in five consecutive starts, but he is just 1-1 with a 3.54 ERA in that span. He worked 6 2-3 innings on Saturday, allowing three runs and five hits in a 4-2 loss to the A’s. The 26-year-old right-hander is 2-1 with a 5.93 ERA in five career games against Oakland.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Athletics - Chavez, .279 avg. and 25 HRs; Miguel Tejada, 89 RBIs and 85 runs; Eric Byrnes, 9 SBs. Devil Rays - Aubrey Huff, .318 avg., 28 HRs and 91 RBIs; Rocco Baldelli, 76 runs; Carl Crawford, 45 SBs.
SEASON SERIES: Athletics, 5-1.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Athletics - SS Tejada is 9-for-20 (.450) in his career against RHP Harden. … OF Jose Guillen did not play Thursday, as he served the first game of a two-game suspension he received while with Cincinnati earlier this season. … 1B Erubiel Durazo struck out in a pinch-hitting appearance Thursday, leaving him 1-for-24 in his last eight games and dropping his average to a season-low .248. Devil Rays - The Devil Rays have already matched their win total from last season when they finished 55-106. … OF Huff is batting .471 (24-for-51) during a 13-game hitting streak. … Tampa Bay has played in an AL-high 45 one-run games, going 22-23 in those games.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Athletics - 33-36 on the road; Devil Rays - 31-38 at home.
INJURIES: Athletics - LHP Micah Bowie (elbow), 15-day DL; LHP Mark Mulder (hip), 15-day DL. Devil Rays - SS Rey Ordonez (knee), 15-day DL; OF Ben Grieve (blood clot), 60-day DL; RHP Seth McClung (elbow), 60-day DL.