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05/02/10 5:02 PM ET

Harden vs. Braden kicks off set in Oakland

It's never too early in the season for a division showdown, especially when the two teams -- the Rangers and the A's -- are battling for the top spot in the American League West standings.

Of late, however, the teams are seemingly headed in two different directions.

The Rangers are fresh off a series sweep over the Mariners on the road and starting to put together some consistent success, while the Athletics have lost four of five contests.

Both teams would like to get on a roll against their divisional foe and take control at the top of the standings.

The Rangers' starter in the first game of the series, Rich Harden, has never started against the Athletics. He played for them for six seasons before being traded to the Cubs in 2009. Harden admitted that he was excited for a return to Oakland, where he had a 2.98 ERA in 47 starts and two relief appearances at the Oakland Coliseum.

"It's nice pitchers' park, especially at night," Harden said. "It's a good place to pitch because of the big foul territory. I always liked pitching there. ... Anytime you play against an old organization, you want to do well."

It won't be all fun for Harden, who knows he has work to do on Monday night. Tops on the list is correcting his command issues. The Canadian right-hander has issued a Major League-high 23 walks this season, an issue that plagued him even as he picked up his first victory of the season in his last start against the Indians. He was credited with a quality start, allowing three earned runs in six innings, but he allowed five free passes.

His opponent in the series opener, Dallas Braden, also struggled with his control in his last start en route to his first loss of the season, an outing that saw him allow six earned runs in just four innings to go with three walks. His inability to get ahead of hitters was particularly noteworthy.

"Not too happy with Strike 1," said Braden, who had lasted at least six innings in each of his four starts before Wednesday's outing.

Rangers: Starters going deep into games
The Rangers have gotten a lot out of their starting pitchers in recent weeks, and after Sunday's seven-plus-innings, one-run effort by C.J. Wilson, Texas starters have worked at least six innings in eight consecutive games, the longest such streak since the staff did it in 10 successive games in May of last year.

Wilson's 1.75 ERA in April, which he lowered to 1.65 on Sunday, was the sixth-lowest April ERA with 25 or more innings in the month in Rangers history. It was the lowest mark since Kevin Brown's 1.14 ERA for April 1993.

Athletics: Rosales swinging a hot bat
In Sunday's loss to the Blue Jays, second baseman Adam Rosales provided a bright spot offensively, continuing his hot-hitting of late. With a 2-for-2 day at the plate, including a two-run single and two walks, Rosales finished the road trip batting .476 (10-for-21) and is hitting .437 (14-for-32) away from the Oakland Coliseum this year.

Starter Justin Duchscherer, who left Thursday's game in Toronto in the fourth inning with a strained left hip, will visit Nashville-based physician Thomas Byrd on Monday for an MRI examination. Byrd is the same doctor who performed both of Duchscherer's right-hip surgeries, the first of which came July 11, 2007, and the second which took place Sept. 29, 2008. According to A's manager Bob Geren, Duchscherer could potentially make his start Tuesday if there is no evidence of structural damage. However, even if the injury is written off as nothing serious, the club will most likely have him miss at least one outing.

Worth noting
A's closer Andrew Bailey has a current and career-high 18 1/3-inning scoreless streak, which dates back to Sept. 6, 2009. ... The A's pitching staff has an 8.08 ERA (44 earned runs in 49 innings) in six games on their road trip after posting a 2.93 ERA over the first 20 games of the season. ... Rangers designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero didn't start Sunday's game against the Mariners, only the second game this season in which he's been on the bench. He pinch-hit in the eighth, recording a single. Guerrero was 1-for-5 on Saturday and now has two hits in his last 16 at-bats. He's also hitting .195 on the road this season.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.