Rangers-Athletics Preview

Amid a mostly disappointing season for Rich Harden, his return

from the disabled list last weekend could be classified as a major

bright spot.

The top highlight of 2010 for the Texas Rangers right-hander,

however, came against the team that drafted him.

Harden tries for a repeat of his first start against the Oakland

Athletics as he returns to the Bay Area on Saturday looking to

pitch the Rangers to a fourth consecutive win.

A healthy Harden could help Texas (64-45) lock up the AL West

title, an outcome that appears even more likely after extending its

lead to 9 1/2 games over second-place Oakland with a 5-1 win in

Friday night’s series opener. This is the Rangers’ biggest division

lead since 1999, also the last year they won the West.

“You can’t take anything for granted,” ace Cliff Lee said.

“There’s still a lot of season left. We want to clinch it as soon

as we can. But a lot of things can happen. We can’t get complacent

or content.”

Harden (4-3, 5.25 ERA) is unlikely to fall victim to

complacency. He has struggled with control and efficiency this

year, walking 45 in 72 innings, and he spent seven weeks on the

disabled list with a strained left gluteal muscle.

He was activated last Saturday, posting seven strong innings to

outduel Dan Haren in a 2-1 win over the Angels.

“It feels good to get back out there on the mound,” Harden said.

“I’ve been thinking about getting out there for a while. It’s hard

not to think about it and get that first win out of the way.”

Harden was even better at Oakland on May 3, allowing two hits in

seven scoreless innings and striking out nine without a walk in a

4-2 win.

It was the first time he had started against the A’s, who traded

him to the Chicago Cubs on July 8, 2008, after Harden spent his

first 5 1/2 seasons with Oakland.

“I was looking forward to pitching here,” Harden told the

Rangers’ official website at the time. “It’s a familiar setting.

Everything felt good. I know those guys and I know they take

pitchers deep in counts and work walks. I just wanted to be

aggressive and make them swing the bat instead of putting guys on

base.”

Lee used a similar approach to neutralize the A’s offense

Friday, limiting Oakland to seven hits without walking a batter in

eight innings.

The A’s (54-54) rank 11th in the AL in runs and have been held

to two or fewer seven times in their last 16 games, accounting for

all but one of their losses in that stretch.

Gio Gonzalez (9-7, 3.69) goes to the mound Saturday having

fallen victim to minimal run support lately. The left-hander struck

out a career-high 11 without a walk in eight innings Sunday against

the White Sox, but gave up all of Chicago’s runs in the fourth

inning of a 4-1 defeat.

“You look at it bittersweet,” Gonzalez said. “I threw a complete

game, we battled all the way through and kept the team in the

game.”

Gonzalez also was sharp against Texas in his previous outing

July 27, giving up one run in six innings, but the Lee-led Rangers

outlasted him to win 3-1 in 10 innings.

He won his only home start against Texas on Aug. 4, 2009,

working 6 2-3 innings in a 6-0 win.