Notes: Suzuki improves behind dish

Notes: Suzuki improves behind dish

OAKLAND -- At this time last year, A's catcher Kurt Suzuki was sitting at home; his season at Double-A Midland had been over for a month. He's happy to be going home a little later this year.

Suzuki, who spent his third Spring Training with the big club this year, started the season at Triple-A Sacramento. He made his Major League debut on June 12 as a pinch-hitter, and made his first start a few days later against the St. Louis Cardinals.

"I still remember the Cardinals and the amount I learned in just that game alone," Suzuki said before Thursday's game against the Texas Rangers. "I can compare it to a half-season in the Minors."

This is the latest Suzuki has played as a professional baseball player, and he's trying to make the most of it. After all, the A's were willing to trade Jason Kendall and hand Suzuki the starting job with an eye for next year.

"It's been a whirlwind," Suzuki said. "I know it's September, but it still seems like this season went faster than any other. It's been exciting, and I look forward to continue getting better."

Kendall was traded in the middle of July, effectively making Suzuki the starter. A's manager Bob Geren thinks the month overlap gave Suzuki a chance to observe, learn and remain fresh for September.

"With Jason here, he didn't play a lot," Geren said. "He's fine physically. [On Wednesday night in Seattle] he had the best game at blocking the ball I recall ever seeing. I don't know the exact number -- 12 or 15 -- but he blocked every one."

Suzuki started 45 of the A's 56 games at catcher since the Kendall trade. After a slow start offensively, Suzuki has found his groove. He's hitting .273 with five home runs over his last 35 games after hitting just .185 in his first 21 games.

Perhaps his biggest adjustment was learning to catch pitchers like Dan Haren and Esteban Loaiza -- pitchers who have been around awhile.

"Definitely, it's the first time I've caught the starters," Suzuki said. "I'm still learning the staff, learning what pitches they like to go to in certain situations. I need to learn their strengths and weaknesses. There's still a lot to learn."

It all started in Spring Training, where he became more comfortable every year.

"Just knowing you can compete is a big step," Suzuki said. "Now, I need to get used to the league and the atmosphere."

A simulated Harden: A's right-hander Rich Harden, on the 60-day disabled list recovering from a strained right shoulder, pitched a simulated game on Thursday, throwing 52 pitches. He's remains on schedule to make a start in Cleveland on Sept. 23, which would be his first appearance since July 7.

"His ball had life; he had a lot of action," Geren said.

Harden will maintain a routine where he will throw a side session in a day or two, then throw between 70-80 pitches in another simulated game on Sept. 18.

Geren hopes Harden will make two starts and finish the season on a good note.

"It's good just to see him on the mound," Geren said. "He can finish the season strong and healthy."

Hometown hitting: The A's have a winning record at home, yet own the lowest home batting average (.237) in the American League. On the other hand, the A's are six games under .500 on the road and own the fifth-best road average (.271).

Should the A's maintain their average in Oakland, it would be the lowest mark since batting .229 in 1982.

The A's have also scored more than 100 more runs on the road (387) than at home (281). The pitching staff has helped, recording the second-lowest home ERA (3.63).

Extra innings: The A's have not had a losing season against the AL West since 1999. They are currently seven games under .500 against the division. ... On this date in 1953, Bob Trice became the first African-American to play for the A's. ... The A's are 11-5 in extra innings, the most extra inning wins in the American League.

Up next: LHP Dan Meyer (0-1, 4.32) makes his second start of the season and his first since his recall on Sept. 3. Meyer was called up to start a game against Kansas City in August and then returned to Triple-A Sacramento. He's made two quality relief appearances in September, earning the start. He'll be opposed by Texas lefty Kason Gabbard (6-1, 4.07) in a 7:05 p.m. start.

Rick Eymer is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.