Perhaps everyone was a bit premature in tabbing Rich Harden as the new member of Oakland’s “Big Four” starting rotation.
The rookie right-hander will try to re-establish himself as a budding big league star when the AL West-leading Oakland Athletics wrap up a four-game series with the defending World Series champion Anaheim Angels at Network Associates Coliseum.
Harden, who went 3-0 with a 1.33 ERA in his first four major league starts after being recalled from the minors in late July, has gone just 1-4 in his last six outings. With his ERA up to 4.80, Harden has had trouble living up to the early praise heaped upon him when he broke in by yielding four runs over 27 innings in his first four starts.
On Saturday, Harden looked very hittable in a 7-4 loss to Tampa Bay, allowing five runs and eight hits over only 3 2-3 innings.
“I feel strong but my velocity was down,” Harden said. “I’m more inconsistent now than I ever have been.”
After dropping the series opener, the A’s have bounced back with consecutive wins, including Wednesday’s 3-0 victory. Ted Lilly yielded four hits over 5 1-3 innings and Eric Chavez’s RBI triple sparked a three-run fourth as Oakland maintained its 2 1/2 -game lead over second-place Seattle in the West.
STANDINGS: Angels - 3rd place, 16 GB, AL West. Athletics - 1st place, AL West.
ANGELS PROBABLE STARTER: Scot Shields (4-4, 2.97 ERA). Shields did not receive a decision in Anaheim’s 6-5 win over Kansas City on Saturday, yielding four runs and seven hits over five innings. The veteran right-hander is 1-0 in his last three starts despite surrendering 14 runs and 24 hits over 14 2-3 innings. He boasts a 2-0 mark with a 0.90 ERA in nine career relief appearances against the A’s.
ATHLETICS PROBABLE STARTER: Harden (4-4, 4.80 ERA). Harden didn’t have much trouble in his first start against the Angels on July 26. Making his second career start, Harden earned his first big league win by allowing a run and seven hits over seven innings in an 8-1 victory. He struck out three and walked one.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Angels - Garret Anderson, .315 avg., 29 HRs and 114 RBIs; Tim Salmon, 72 runs; Adam Kennedy, 21 SBs. Athletics - Eric Chavez, .282 avg.; Chavez and Miguel Tejada, 25 HRs; Tejada, 93 RBIs and 88 runs; Byrnes and Tejada, 9 SBs.
SEASON SERIES: Athletics, 9-7.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Angels - C Jose Molina is yet to walk this season in 107 plate appearances. He walked five times last year. … SS David Eckstein went 0-for-2 Wednesday in his first start since being activated from the disabled list Tuesday. He’d been on the DL since Aug. 19 with nerve irritation in his right hamstring. … RHP Shields is 1-3 with a 4.02 ERA in 19 appearances, including five starts, on the road this year. Athletics - RHP Harden is 2-1 with a 3.91 ERA in four home starts this year. … The A’s are trying to win three straight for the first time since a season-high 10-game run from Aug. 23-Sept. 22. … DH Erubiel Durazo is 10-for-45 (.222) with one RBI in his last 14 games.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Angels - 30-43 on the road; Athletics - 52-22 at home.
INJURIES: Angels - 3B Troy Glaus (shoulder), 15-day DL; OF Darin Erstad (hamstring), 15-day DL; RHP Matt Wise (elbow), 60-day DL; C Bengie Molina (wrist), 60-day DL; 1B-DH Brad Fullmer (knee), 60-day DL. Athletics - LHP Micah Bowie (elbow), 15-day DL; LHP Mark Mulder (hip), 15-day DL.