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05/04/10 2:20 AM ET

A's stymied by former teammate in opener

Harden outduels Braden with seven scoreless frames

OAKLAND -- Hours before his team took the field Monday, A's manager Bob Geren was continually asked about the talent that is right-hander Rich Harden.

The skipper supplied a quick answer, making it no secret he'd rather spend the time talking about his own players rather than those on the opposing team -- even those like Harden, who previously donned Oakland's green and gold.

Geren, though, was again forced to face the same queries by night's end.

And, this time, he had a few more words to contribute.

That's what happens when Harden goes and throws seven scoreless frames of two-hit ball when facing his former team for the first time since being traded away in July of 2008. As a result, the A's fell victim to a 4-2 loss to the visiting Rangers in the first of a three-game set Monday.

Furthermore, the A's were left pondering their sixth loss in their past seven games -- a span during which they've been outscored 49-23.

This time, Oakland's offense mustered six combined hits off four Texas hurlers, led by a dominant Harden who had previously been struggling mightily this season. The Rangers' right-hander entered the game with a 4.56 ERA and 23 walks attached to his name. He left with a 3.52 ERA and didn't offer up a single free pass.

"He threw a lot better than he has all year," Geren said. "He exceeded any outing, by far. I mean, I haven't seen all of his starts, but this one has to be his best game. He had a good fastball and a good changeup, and he also mixed in his slider very effectively."

Said A's starter Dallas Braden: "He's a front-line guy with front-line stuff. We didn't get the Harden we'd been hearing about all year."

Thus, a helpless Braden walked away with his second consecutive loss following a strong seven-plus inning performance -- one that made his previous six-run outing against the Rays seemingly appear as nothing more than an ugly hiccup.

The lefty offered up six of his career-high 11 hits in the fourth and fifth frames, leading to a trio of Rangers runs. However, he retired seven straight following the two-inning glitch before boarding two consecutive batters in the eighth upon his exit. In the end, he was charged with three runs to go along with three strikeouts.

"He pitched well enough to win on a typical night," Geren said. "He scattered hits, controlled the damage and went deep in the game. That's exactly what you want to see him do."

Just don't tell Braden that.

"I wouldn't agree with that," the southpaw said. "They scored runs, and any time they score runs you're not supposed to win, in my opinion. Eleven hits, three runs ... they had plenty of opportunities to put more up there and all I did was damage control, really."

A disappointed Braden made no excuses for the loss and quickly entered self-critic mode, mentioning he witnessed just one encouraging facet of an otherwise rather forgettable game.

"The only positive today is I didn't walk anybody," he said. "That's about it. I'm kind of disappointed I didn't see the Charlie Brown float in the hit parade. There was a real big Michael Young float."

Still, Geren disagreed en route to taking the glass-half-full mindset.

"He's been pretty good the whole year," the Oakland skipper said. "Command of his fastball has been good, he's done a nice job with his changeup, and he's always able to hold runners. Honestly, he's been pretty consistent all year. Everyone's going to have a bad start here and there, but I like when he's out there. He always gives us a chance to win."

Perhaps that chance would have turned into something slightly more had an A's lineup not waited until the final inning to garner some runs -- which came courtesy of a two-run homer off the bat of Kevin Kouzmanoff.

Harden, who compiled a season-high nine strikeouts, carried a no-hitter through five innings before surrendering a double to Rajai Davis in the sixth with one out. Oakland didn't have a runner in scoring position again until the final frame, when Eric Chavez walked with none out and reached second base on an indifference ruling. However, Rangers closer Neftali Feliz forced a popout from Adam Rosales and officially put the game away with back-to-back strikeouts against Eric Patterson and pinch-hitter Jake Fox.

The A's, now 13-14 and below the .500 mark for the first time since April 6, will look to Vin Mazzaro to stop a current 1-6 skid -- a stretch during which the club has witnessed its starting rotation go 1-6 with an ERA over 10.00.

Not exactly numbers to be proud of, confirmed Braden.

"For me, my changeup was working and my cutter was there, but they were hitting me all game," he said. "Overall, a loss is a loss. Bottom line. Not acceptable."

Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.