Athletics 3, Mariners 0

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SEATTLE (AP)—Rich Harden is making the fans in Oakland forget about Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder.

Harden pitched seven innings to run his scoreless string to 15 and the Athletics got a two-run homer from Mark Kotsay in a 3-0 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Thursday night.

The 23-year-old Harden (2-0), moved up in the A’s rotation after the offseason trades of Hudson to Atlanta and Mulder to St. Louis, allowed five hits and two walks and struck out eight in his third start of the season.

Harden said he’s more comfortable after making 31 starts for the A’s in 2004.

“I’m kind of relaxed a little more. I’m feeling pretty good,” he said. “Being a little more relaxed out there helps me to make my pitches. I don’t try to do too much. In the past, I might have been focused too much in trying to make my pitches.”

Harden said he didn’t feel any extra pressure to excel with the departures of Hudson and Mulder.

“I like pitching under pressure, but I don’t think that really put too much pressure on me,” he said. “It was something I kind of welcomed. It was a good opportunity for myself. I don’t want to go out there and change anything. I want to keep pitching the way I have the last year-and-a-half.”

A’s manager Ken Macha likes Harden’s extra gear on his fastball.

“I think what’s impressive is he can get two strikes at 94 (mph) and then put a little extra on it and throw it at 97 and get a strikeout,” Macha said. “How much better is he? He’s been lights out so that’s as good as you’re going to get.”

Harden has allowed only one earned run in 20 1-3 innings, an ERA of 0.44. He’s struck out 20 and walked six this season, while holding opposing hitters to a .188 batting average (13-for-69).

Harden showed the A’s his potential in 2004 when he went 8-2 with a 3.49 ERA and a .229 opponents’ batting average in 15 starts after the All-Star break.

In Harden’s last inning, the seventh, Bret Boone had a one-out single and Raul Ibanez walked, but Harden struck out Randy Winn and Miguel Olivo.

Harden made a fan of new Mariners manager Mike Hargrove.

“He is as good a young pitcher as there is in this league,” Hargrove said.

Octavio Dotel pitched the final 1 1-3 innings for his third save in as many opportunities.

Oakland got its third shutout, while Seattle was shut out for the first time this season.

The A’s took a 1-0 lead when Ryan Franklin (1-2) walked Erubiel Durazo to lead off the second and Mark Ellis tripled to center with one out.

In the third, Oakland made it 3-0 when Marco Scutaro led off with a single and Kotsay hit the next pitch into the right field stands for his second homer.

Kotsay tried to convince Macha to hit-and-run before he homered on his first pitch.

“I rejected that suggestion,” Macha said.

Kotsay said: “I just thought it was a good situation and I might hit a fastball. But it worked out.”

Franklin, who allowed three runs and four hits in eight innings, blamed himself for giving Kotsay a pitch he could hit for a homer.

“That was the dumbest pitch I threw all night,” Franklin said. “The only way he will hurt me is if I miss in. I know he is aggressive and swings early. That was my fault.”

Notes

For the second straight night, Safeco Field had its lowest crowd ever, 22,428. Wednesday night’s game drew 24,841. The Mariners moved from the Kingdome to Safeco on July 15, 1999. … Ichiro Suzuki of the Mariners went 1-for-4 and hit into his first double play of the season Thursday night. He is 3-for-16 in his last four games to drop to .375. He was hitting .438 after Sunday’s game in Chicago. Suzuki set the major league hits record with 262 last season, his fifth with Seattle. … LF Charles Thomas, who came to the A’s in December as part of the trade for Hudson, went 0-for-3 and is 0-for-21 with four walks in his first season in the AL. That’s the longest hitless streak of his career and he has the most at-bats in the majors this season among players with no hits. He hit .288 with seven homers and 31 RBIs in 83 games with the Braves last season. … Shin-Soo Choo of the Mariners made his major league debut as a pinch hitter in the ninth and grounded out to first to end the game.

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