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08/27/10 7:31 PM ET

Rangers look to pull further ahead of the A's

As the season hits its stretch run, the Rangers continue to assert their dominance in the American League West.

With Friday's 7-3 win over the A's, Texas moved closer to its first division title since Pudge Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez and Rafael Palmeiro guided the 1999 team to the playoffs.

"It's a great opportunity, and we're excited about it," Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton said. "But we're not focused that far ahead yet. We still have a long ways to go."

The series opener against Oakland served as the latest reminder of how the Rangers gained a hold on the division: a deep lineup and the franchise's best rotation in years.

Behind 7 2/3 strong innings from Tommy Hunter, Texas extended its lead to 9 1/2 games over the A's on Friday. Meanwhile, its offense snapped an Oakland streak of 18 straight quality starts by scoring four runs against Brett Anderson, who left after the second inning with a hyperextended right knee.

For Saturday's nightcap, the Rangers will send former A's pitcher Rich Harden to the mound. Harden has faced Oakland twice this season with mixed results.

On May 3, Harden limited the A's to two hits over seven shutout innings, striking out nine while not allowing a walk for the only time this season. Then, on Aug. 7, Harden lasted a season-low 2 1/3 innings, allowing three earned runs on two hits and five walks while striking out two.

In his start on Monday against the Twins, Harden tossed a no-hitter through 6 2/3 innings, but was pulled following 111 pitches and five walks.

"It was an interesting night," Harden said after the outing. "I was effectively wild. But I got out there and had a good arm slot. Even when I missed, I felt I was getting everything into my pitches. I made pitches when I had to and had good defense behind me."

The A's will counter with lefty Dallas Braden, who has looked sharp since returning from the 15-day disabled list on July 20. Over seven starts in that span, Braden is 4-2 with a 2.81 ERA.

A's: Pitchers providing quality innings
Though it was snapped Friday, Oakland's streak of 18 straight quality starts is tied with the 1927 Philadelphia A's for the longest such streak in franchise history.

A's right-hander Ben Sheets rejoined his teammates in Texas on Friday for the first time since undergoing season-ending elbow surgery. The 32-year-old said he would consider returning to the mound if all goes well.

"Mother Nature's going to do most of the healing," Sheets said. "Time will be the biggest thing. I wouldn't rule anything out, but you never know. I don't have a clue what I'm going to do, to tell you the truth."

Rangers: Kinsler set to begin rehab games
Second baseman Ian Kinsler (strained groin) is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment with Double-A Frisco on Saturday. Though Kinsler was the team's regular third-place hitter when healthy, manager Ron Washington said Friday that Hamilton will remain in the No. 3 hole for the rest of the year.

Worth noting
After Friday's 7-3 victory over Oakland, the Rangers lead the season series, 7-6. ... Braden is 0-2 with a 4.85 ERA in two starts against Texas this season. ... Sheets' surgical procedure was administered by Rangers team physician Dr. Keith Meister.

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