Despite some ups and downs, Oakland’s Rich Harden is happy with the way his rookie season has progressed.
The Athletics will send Harden to the hill as they try to make it two straight wins over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Tropicana Field.
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.
Harden began the season 3-0 with a 1.33 ERA before losing three straight starts.
He credited his improvement in his last start to extra work with pitching coach Rick Peterson.
“All the work I’ve been putting in has been helping me out a lot,” Harden said. “It makes me feel a lot better.”
Oakland has taken six of seven from Tampa Bay this season, increasing its overall record in the series to 42-13.
The Athletics swept a three-game series from the Devil Rays at home last weekend.
“I respect this team here,” manager Ken Macha said of the Devil Rays. “These guys play hard. The next two days, we’ve got our work cut out for us. We’ve got to play good baseball.”
The A’s have a two-game lead over Seattle in the AL West.
Tampa Bay had won two straight before losing on Friday. Prior to this series, the Devil Rays took four of six from Seattle, helping Oakland out.
“We just got beat,” Tampa outfielder Aubrey Huff said. “Certain teams just have your number.”
The Devil Rays will turn to right-hander Rob Bell on Saturday. Bell has gone at least six innings in five consecutive starts, but is just 1-1 with a 3.54 ERA in that span.
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 had been 0-3 with a 8.19 ERA in his previous four starts.
DEVIL RAYS PROBABLE STARTER: Bell (3-3, 5.45 ERA). He allowed three runs and five hits over 6 2-3 innings on Sunday 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 - Eric Chavez, .281 avg. and 25 HRs; Miguel Tejada, 89 RBIs and 85 runs; Tejada and Eric Byrnes, 9 SBs. Devil Rays - Huff, .316 avg., 28 HRs and 91 RBIs; Rocco Baldelli, 76 runs; Carl Crawford, 46 SBs.
SEASON SERIES: Athletics, 6-1.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Athletics - DH Erubiel Durazo is mired in a 3-for-29 slump. … INF Mark Ellis is 5-for-11 against RHP Bell. … RF Jermaine Dye is hitless in 11 at-bats since returning Tuesday from a right shoulder injury. Devil Rays - Manager Lou Piniella said RHP Jesus Colome might miss the rest of the season after pulling an oblique muscle while warming up in the bullpen Thursday. … OF Huff went 0-for-4 Friday to snap a 13-game hitting streak. … OF Crawford added to his team-record with his 46th stolen base on Friday. The previous record was 31 by Jason Tyner in 2001.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Athletics - 34-36 on the road; Devil Rays - 31-39 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.