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08/29/10 12:29 AM ET

Harden continues frustrating yo-yo season

Following great start, righty struggles while offense is shut out

ARLINGTON -- Rich Harden was hoping to build off his previous start, in which he allowed no hits in 6 2/3 innings. He was hoping to establish some consistency as far as pitching deep into a game.

He was not able to accomplish that goal before a sellout crowd at the Ballpark in Arlington on Saturday. Harden's season continues to be a frustrating dance of one step forward and one backward. The one constant has been the uncertainty that goes with projecting what's next for him.

Harden gave up four runs in 4 1/3 innings, and that was way too much on a night when Athletics pitcher Dallas Braden was breezing through the Rangers' lineup on his way to a 5-0 complete-game victory. The Rangers drew 47,411 for this one, allowing them to soar over the 2 million mark in attendance for the season.

But enough of the evening's highlights for the Rangers.

"We were outplayed tonight," third baseman Michael Young said. "They swung the bats, and we didn't. That was pretty much the game."

The crowd also saw the Rangers get shut out at home for the first time this season. They were the last Major League team this season to be held scoreless in a game at home.

"All Dallas Braden," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "We certainly would have liked to have seen [Harden] go out there and hold them down, but we didn't put anything on the board either. We didn't do anything against Dallas Braden. We just got shut down."

The Athletics still cling to hope in the American League West. Saturday's victory left them 8 1/2 games behind the first-place Rangers, and it's their pitching that keeps them clutching to a sliver of hope. The Athletics are 23-18 in their past 41 games because their pitching staff has a 2.57 ERA in that stretch, including a 2.48 ERA from their young starting rotation.

The Rangers' pitching staff hasn't been that far off, but they are still waiting to see if they can get any consistency from Harden.

"That's the big thing I've struggled with is finding consistency," Harden said. "I guess that's been the key to this season. I feel close, I feel good. ... Tonight I just missed with a few pitches. I felt I had a good off-speed pitch going. It's just frustrating."

Harden is 2-2 with a 3.54 ERA in four starts since missing seven weeks with a strained lower back muscle. He allowed one run over seven innings in a 2-1 victory over the Angels on July 31, and his no-hit bid on Monday turned into a 4-0 victory over the Twins.

But there was also an Aug. 7 start against the Athletics in which Harden allowed three runs over 2 1/3 innings in a 6-2 loss. After that start, Harden ended up on the 15-day disabled list again, this time with shoulder inflammation. Then came the gem on Monday against the Twins.

"I thought he threw the ball alright tonight," catcher Matt Treanor said. "The only difference early on is we didn't spot the pitches we did the last Monday. I know Rich and I know how much of a competitor he is. I know how frustrating it is, because I know how good he can be."

Harden's next start falls on Thursday, and the Rangers are off that day. The Rangers could skip Harden and let the other four starters continue to pitch on their normal four days' rest. But the Rangers also like the possibility of giving their starters an extra day of the rest at this point in the season. That includes Cliff Lee, who has been dealing with his own struggles lately.

"That's not a question I can answer right now," Washington said when asked about Harden's next start. "I just want to get ready for tomorrow. There is nothing more I can say."

Harden wasn't terrible. Two hitters sitting back-to-back in the Athletics' lineup caused most of the damage. First baseman Daric Barton, hitting in the No. 2 spot, was 2-for-3 with a double, home run and two walks while scoring four runs, and Kurt Suzuki, batting behind him, was 4-for-5 with two RBIs.

The Athletics scored one in the first when Barton walked with one out, went to second on Suzuki's single and scored on a two-out single by Kevin Kouzmanoff. Barton hit a two-run home run in the third, then doubled and scored on Suzuki's bloop single down the right-field line in the fifth. Harden left in that inning after walking the next hitter.

"They were really aggressive early," Harden said. "I didn't feel all that bad. I made good pitches and bad pitches. I still wanted to stay out there and give us a few more innings, but that wasn't the case."

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