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Harden K's five straight in return from DL as A's roll

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- The Oakland Athletics entered their
series against Minnesota in a head-scratching slump -- and just as
they've done so many times over the years, they pitched their way
out of it.

Rich Harden struck out six in his first start back from the
disabled list, and light-hitting Marco Scutaro got three hits in
the A's 5-1 victory over the Twins on Sunday.

Harden survived four innings in his first appearance since April
26 before Brad Halsey finished Oakland's four-game shutdown of the
Minnesota offense, allowing two hits in five scoreless innings to
win his second consecutive game.

The A's held the Twins to four runs in the four-game series,
winning three times to get back on track after losing 10 of their
previous 12.

"It just seems like we're a team that always (struggles) in
May, and then we bounce back in June," said Dan Johnson, who
homered. "Hopefully this will be the series that gets it going for
us. ... Rich is one of the top pitchers in baseball. Just to see
him out there is energizing to us."

Scutaro had a two-run single for the A's, whose injury problems
largely were behind the skid. Harden was the first of seven A's to
return from the disabled list, and he looks good so far despite
control problems.

Harden allowed four hits and three walks while working the first
four innings on a pitch count, but he mostly pitched out of trouble
and got his final five outs on strikeouts. Joe Mauer's first-inning
homer provided the Twins' only run against him.

"I was fighting myself for a couple of innings, but as the game
went on, I was feeling better and better," said Harden, who got a
high-five from pitching coach Curt Young after striking out Lew
Ford with two on to end the fourth. "I didn't really feel too
different than I did six weeks ago when I pitched the last time."

Harden, who threw just 79 pitches, strained a muscle in his back
while trying to field a ball in his previous start. He was 3-0 at
the time, and the A's had won all five of his starts.

Halsey (3-2) finished impressively, facing the minimum 14
batters until a two-out walk in the ninth. He also got two outs
Saturday to get credit for Oakland's 2-1 win.

"We just couldn't get anybody across home plate," said Mauer,
who's hitting .458 in his last 14 games. "You're not going to win,
especially with the pitching staff that they have. Four runs in
four days -- we have to put some more runs on the board. They have a
great staff. They come at you every day."

Carlos Silva (2-7) had a rough start for the Twins, who have
lost five of their first seven on this 10-game road trip finishing
in Seattle. After five straight relief appearances following a
demotion to the bullpen, Silva yielded nine hits and four runs in
five innings -- but he barely had a chance with his punchless
teammates.

"We just didn't swing the bats very well, or they pitched good,
whichever way you want to look at it," Minnesota manager Ron
Gardenhire said. "We didn't score. We (had) a home run and nothing
after that. We didn't swing the bats well for the whole series."

But even with one Oakland player back from injury, another was
slowed. A's designated hitter Frank Thomas doubled and scored while
running gingerly, and he left the game in the third inning with
soreness in his left foot. Manager Ken Macha wasn't certain of the
injury's seriousness.

Scutaro, a seldom-used reserve infielder playing regularly while
Mark Ellis is out, drove in two runs with a second-inning single --
just his fifth hit since April 9. He added singles in the fourth
and sixth innings, giving him four hits in two days after an
0-for-15 slide.

Johnson added a solo homer, his fourth of the season, in the
fourth inning. The Coon Rapids, Minn., native had two hits and two
walks to push his batting average above .200.

Jason Kendall and Bobby Crosby also had run-scoring singles for
the A's.

Game notes
The A's still have six players on the disabled list,
including RHP Esteban Loaiza, OF Milton Bradley and reliever Jay
Witasick. Loaiza allowed three runs and six hits over three innings
Sunday in a rehab appearance with Triple-A Sacramento, and Witasick
pitched one hitless inning. ... Minnesota swept a three-game series
against Oakland in Minneapolis in April. ... After the game,
Oakland optioned C Jeremy Brown back to Triple-A Sacramento in
anticipation of Bradley's return from the DL on Wednesday in
Cleveland. Brown hasn't played for the A's during two callups this
season.