One of the reasons the A's resisted calling up right-hander Rich Harden earlier this season was his limited experience in the minor leagues.
But in earning his first major league win Saturday, Harden displayed the poise and composure that propelled him so quickly through the A's system in the first place.
Despite battling command problems with his breaking pitches and having to rely almost exclusively on his fastball in the early innings, Harden yielded only one run in seven innings as the A's beat the Anaheim Angels 8-1 at Edison Field.
``I just kind of kept my fastball down and moved it in and out,'' said Harden, a 17th-round pick in the 2000 draft who opened the season at Double-A Midland. ``I've been working on trying to keep the ball down. When I get the ball up I get more strikeouts, but I also give up more flyballs and bloop hits.''
Harden, 21, could have become rattled by making his second major league start without his full arsenal of pitches. But instead of trying to throw his 98 mph fastball past the dangerous Angels lineup, he kept his cool and kept his fastball down -- even when the leadoff hitter reached base in the first three innings.
The savvy rookie allowed seven hits but got the Angels to hit into double plays in each of the first four innings to avoid any serious damage. He finished with a flourish when his command returned, retiring the last seven batters he faced, recording two of his three strikeouts in that span.
``Guys that came to first base were pretty impressed,'' A's first baseman Scott Hatteberg said. ``That's usually a pretty good barometer to me.''
Harden's strong outing nearly was wasted when the Angels, trailing 5-1, loaded the bases with two out in the eighth. But Chad Bradford got All-Star MVP Garret Anderson to pop out to third baseman Eric Chavez in front of the Angels dugout to end the threat.
``You're always worried when Garret's up as the tying run,'' Manager Ken Macha said. ``I was breathing a little easier after that.''
The win kept the A's deficit in the American League West at four games behind the Seattle Mariners and they trail the Boston Red Sox by two games in the wild-card chase.
Most encouraging for the A's is that after losing the first four games of this 12-game trip, they have won five of six.
``To go over .500 on this road trip with the teams we've played would be a good road trip,'' second baseman Mark Ellis said.
The A's turnaround started when Harden made his major league debut Monday at Kansas City. He yielded one run and four hits in seven innings against the Royals.
But unlike in that no-decision (Harden left with the score 1-1), the A's on Saturday gave the rookie some run support before he had even taken the mound.
Billy McMillon led off the game with a homer over the center-field fence and Miguel Tejada extended his hitting streak to 10 games with an RBI double in the first inning to make it 2-0. After Hatteberg's RBI single and an RBI double by Adam Piatt in the third inning, it was 4-0.
``That helps a lot to go out there with a lead,'' Harden said.
The A's offense, which had produced six runs in the previous three games combined, broke out in a big way against Angels starter Aaron Sele (6-8) and three relievers.
Every starter but Chris Singleton had at least one hit as the A's collected 15 hits. McMillon, Tejada and Hatteberg had three apiece.
McMillon continues to flourish as the A's leadoff hitter. He batted first for the third successive game, and is 6 for 13 with one walk and two homers in that span.
``He's getting his chance and going with it,'' Macha said. ``We'll see where it goes.''