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RHP Harden makes first start in more than three months

Sep 21, 2006 - 12:57 PM Cleveland (70-81) at Oakland (88-63) 3:35 pm EDT

OAKLAND, California (Ticker) - Closing in on a fourth division title this decade, the Oakland Athletics get one of their best starters back Thursday.

Rich Harden makes his first start since June 4 when the Athletics host the finale of a four-game series against the Cleveland Indians.

Harden (3-0, 3.86 ERA) won three straight starts before encountering back spasms in the fourth inning of an outing at Texas on April 26. Although he returned to allow one run and record six strikeouts in four innings 5 1/2 weeks later, Harden suffered a ligament sprain in his right elbow that knocked him out of Oakland's rotation for another 3 1/2 months.

The A's have won all six games started by Harden this season but have done more than just survive without him, going 61-33 since June 4. Oakland has won six of its last seven games overall, reducing its magic number for clinching the American League West Division title to five.

The A's look increase their 6 1/2-game lead over idle Anaheim in the division when they face C.C. Sabathia (11-10, 3.26), who has gone 1-3 with a 6.36 ERA in nine lifetime starts against Oakland. In his last start here on July 25, 2005, Sabathia was torched for eight runs and eight hits in 2 1/3 innings of a 13-4 loss.

Sabathia gave up three runs and 10 hits in seven innings of a 4-1 setback to Minnesota in his most recent outing Saturday. It was the eighth quality start in nine appearances for the lefthander, who has sported a 2.69 ERA in 14 road outings this season.

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