The Rangers managed just four hits over seven scoreless innings off Athletics starter Gio Gonzalez and their lead is back to 8 1/2 games in the American League West. The Rangers didn't score until Taylor Teagarden's eighth-inning home run off reliever Jerry Blevins.
Harden, after allowing one run over seven innings in his last start against the Angels, faced 15 batters and allowed eight to reach base on five walks, one hit batter and two hits.
"Two hits ... I just didn't give them the opportunity to put the ball in play and let my defense do the work," Harden said. "It's frustrating. I actually felt decent warming up, but I just lost that feeling and struggled to find it again."
Harden is 1-1 with a 3.86 ERA in two starts after missing two months with a strained lower back. He is now 4-4 with a 5.45 ERA.
With Opening Day starter Scott Feldman in the bullpen and Derek Holland in Oklahoma City, Texas manager Ron Washington was asked the inevitable question about Harden's status in the rotation. His next scheduled start is on Saturday against the Red Sox.
"The game just ended," Washington said. "We certainly don't have any thoughts about what's going to happen when that next start comes around. Right now Rich has it."
Feldman followed Harden to the mound and allowed three runs in 4 2/3 innings. The Rangers, on the other hand, couldn't get anything done with Gonzalez.
"He was just throwing strikes," Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz said. "He didn't give us many good pitches to hit, especially with men in scoring position. He threw his breaking ball and we have to be more patient in those situations. He threw well."
Harden threw well here against the A's in May, pitching seven scoreless innings in a 4-2 victory. But this ended up being his shortest outing of the season and marked only the sixth time in 142 Major League starts that he's failed to pitch three complete innings.
"You always get a lot of guys chasing at fastballs up and chasing his changeup down," Oakland manager Bob Geren said. "If you do that, he can get on a roll and be virtually unhittable. But our guys did a super job of laying off both of those pitches and getting it to a point where he didn't get through three innings. That's probably what impressed me most."
A's leadoff hitter Coco Crisp had the two hits. He had an infield single to start a two-run rally in the first inning and he had a two-out solo home run in the second. The walks did more damage.
After Crisp reached on an infield hit, Harden walked three of the next four hitters to force in a run. Mark Ellis' sacrifice fly gave the A's a 2-0 lead.
Harden, struggling to command his fastball, ended up throwing 65 pitches, including 32 for strikes. Of the 65 pitches, 42 of them were fastballs and only half of them were thrown for strikes. Harden threw a total of 29 pitches in the five plate appearances that resulted in walks and 21 of them were fastballs.
"He just didn't have command," Washington said. "He couldn't place his fastball and he couldn't get the changeup where he wanted it. His pitch count just got out of control."
Harden's two strikeouts came on sliders, but he used that pitch sparingly. He had some success with a changeup, but that was also the pitch Crisp hit over the right-field fence for the home run. The slider was his best and least-used pitch on Saturday.
"I probably had a better feel for that pitch," Harden said. "Maybe I should have thrown it more. But they were still waiting me out and making me throw a lot of pitches anyway."
Washington said Harden, without an effective fastball, never really had a chance to take advantage of the slider.
"Usually you start a game wanting to establish the fastball," Washington said. "But he couldn't establish any command. He went to the changeup and couldn't establish anything there either."
Harden was pitching on six days' rest and extra time between starts can often lead to erratic command. But Harden, prior to Saturday, was 12-5 with a 2.74 ERA in 30 career starts on six or more days' rest.
"When Rich took the mound, we felt pretty good about him keeping us in the ballgame," Washington said. "It just didn't work out. He gave up an infield single, a few walks and right away they have two runs. He never could find his command. I don't know if you can put your finger on it."