OAKLAND -- In his return from another flare-up of the shoulder soreness that has plagued him several times over the last few years, Brandon McCarthy showed just why the A's can't bear to see him sidelined.
Over seven efficient innings, McCarthy limited the visiting Dodgers to two hits and a walk, helping Oakland shut out Los Angeles, 3-0, in the teams' series opener on Tuesday night. The A's bounced back from Sunday's setback to San Diego to win their sixth in their last seven games, against the team with the best record in the Majors, no less.
McCarthy's problems staying healthy this season -- as well as last season, and for several years before that -- are well documented. But when he has been on the mound, the 6-foot-7 right-hander has pitched as well as he has at any point in his career. McCarthy, who came off the disabled list on June 2 but made just two starts before having to sit out again, showed no signs of rust after missing two outings.
"I don't know how he does it with 11 days off and a routine being messed up some," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "But he goes out there and he looks like he's pitching every five days. It's pretty impressive. I've never had to do something like this, where you deal him one time, comes back, give him extra time, and it's unique.
"Certainly he would like to go out there every fifth day, and you don't want to have to move your rotation around based on giving him extra rest, but it's pretty phenomenal."
In earning the win, the 28-year-old extended his career-high winning streak to six games, stretching over seven starts. He has a 1.96 ERA in that span.
Now, McCarthy just has to figure out how to stay healthy. He finished with 81 pitches, four short of the count put on him by Melvin in an effort to preserve his shoulder. But he had been on a pitch count after coming off the DL originally, and it didn't prevent the pain from reappearing then.
"I'm always kind of worried about that," McCarthy said of another potential bout of soreness. "Especially now, without this kind of extended rest, it's a fight to get through it, and we're doing everything we can. I'm confident that tomorrow it should be fine, I should be able to go get back on a normal routine, but I've been proven wrong a bunch of times before with it."
As consistent and proficient as McCarthy was, his counterpart, Dodgers starter Aaron Harang, was that uneven.
The A's bats drew eight walks off of him, a career high for Harang, and they jumped on the right-hander for their three runs in the first inning, led by left fielder Seth Smith's single that scored center fielder Coco Crisp. Smith advanced to third, and second baseman Jemile Weeks scored, thanks to an error by Los Angeles center fielder Tony Gwynn. Smith then scored on designated hitter Jonny Gomes' single, which was his fifth hit in his last six at-bats.
But it wasn't so much Oakland being adept as Harang just being inconsistent -- he also recorded six strikeouts in his 3 2/3 innings, and the A's didn't manage any more offense against Los Angeles' bullpen.
"I felt a little mechanically like I was rushing too much at times," Harang said. "I was missing my spots. Things just weren't right. They were being patient when I missed and they fouled off a lot and it racked up my pitch count fast. Walks don't help either."
"That plays on your emotions a little bit, when you continually have guys on base and you don't get them in," Melvin said. "But the patience of being able to make [Harang] work, get him out of the game early and get several guys in the game, could make a difference as the series goes along. But you'd like to be able to take care of those opportunities that we didn't."
The brightest spot in the A's lineup was Crisp, who carried the momentum from his ninth-inning RBI single on Sunday into the win against the Dodgers. The leadoff man reached base in four of his five plate appearances, and also stole three bases.
Whereas Crisp's hit on Sunday capped an ill-fated rally after the team did nothing offensively all game, Tuesday reversed the pattern, with plenty offense at first and little after that. But with a healthy McCarthy back on the mound most of the night, the few runs the A's did put up were plenty.
Ben Estes is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.