Notes: Improving A's eye .500 mark

Notes: Improving A's eye .500 mark

OAKLAND -- The A's entered Saturday's game against the visiting Giants having won nine of 12 their past games, but despite their markedly improved play over the past three weeks, scoreboard watching is not yet part of the daily routine.

"Way too early for that," Oakland catcher Jason Kendall said. "When you're down [in the standings] as far as we were, the first thing you do is focus on winning series."

Prior to taking on the Giants, the A's had won four consecutive series.

"Then you start looking at getting back to .500," Kendall added.

On May 29, the A's were 15 games under the even mark. They entered Saturday seven under.

"And once you get to .500, then OK, you can take a peek at the standings," Kendall concluded.

A's manager Ken Macha, however, did take a peek at the standings Saturday morning, and they weren't any prettier than they have been for much of the year: The A's were 10 1/2 games behind the Angels in the American League West.

"We're just getting out of the hole of being 15 games under [.500]," Macha said. "[The standings] are not a major concern right now. My thoughts right now are on getting out of the hole and the development of the young players."

One of the youngsters, Danny Haren, brought a four-game winning streak into his Saturday start. Fellow 24-year-old righty Joe Blanton won his fourth game of June in Friday's series opener. Rookie first baseman Dan Johnson entered Saturday's game on a 9-for-20 (.450) tear, and rookie outfielder Nick Swisher had raised his batting average more than 20 points -- from .213 to .236 -- since June 1.

"We've made some nice strides," Macha said.

Back to the backlog: Keith Ginter got three consecutive starts after being recalled from Triple-A Sacramento on June 14, but only because third baseman Eric Chavez was given a three-game break on defense to rest his sore right shoulder.

Chavez served as Oakland's designated hitter for those three days, but his shoulder has felt pretty good since his breather, so Ginter is back to a life of extremely limited playing time as one of Oakland's three second basemen.

Asked if there were enough at-bats to go around for Ginter, Mark Ellis and Marco Scutaro, Macha was blunt.

"Probably not," he said.

Ellis got the nod at second Saturday, and as long as Chavez's shoulder and shortstop Bobby Crosby's back hold up, Ellis and Scutaro figure to get the bulk of the starts. The most plausible way for Ginter to get onto the field on a semi-regular basis, then, would be at third if the A's were to give Chavez a couple of half-duty days a week.

"To be truthful, I haven't though about that," Macha said. "I'm watching Eric throw, and he's on top of it, letting it rip. Whatever [treatment they gave him], it worked."

   Kirk Saarloos  /   P
Born: 05/23/79
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 180 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R

Waiting game: Right-hander Kirk Saarloos has a 2.00 ERA in his past four starts, but his status in the rotation hasn't changed. As the No. 5 man, he might as well be nicknamed "Skip."

The A's have two days off before the All-Star break, and Macha said the club will tweak its rotation to maximize the number of starts for Barry Zito, Rich Harden and Haren.

That means Saarloos, who last worked Thursday in Seattle, won't make another start until July 2. He'll then have to wait until the following Saturday, in Chicago, for his final start before the break.

"That's the life of a No. 5," Saarloos said with a shrug. "I know how it works. I've been pushed back and skipped all year, so I'm kind of used to it."

Blanton will get a week between his final two starts of the half, too, going June 29 and July 6.

Dribblers: Rookie closer Huston Street, who has been out for more than a week with a strained hamstring, did well in agility drills before Saturday's game. "There's a chance he'll be available [Sunday]," Macha said. "If our trainer had his druthers, it'd be Tuesday." ... Harden, who threw 67 pitches in his first start off the disabled list Tuesday, will be limited to between 80-85 pitches Sunday. ... Pitching coach Curt Young spoke with Triple-A Sacramento manager Tony DeFrancesco to get a report on righty Juan Cruz's first start for the RiverCats. It sounded a lot like every other report on Cruz: great stuff, but constantly behind in the count.

Up next: Harden (3-3, 2.70 ERA) takes on the Giants' Brett Tomko (5-9, 4.78) in Sunday's series finale at McAfee Coliseum. Game time is 1:05 p.m. PT.

Mychael Urban is a national writer for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.