And with 2005 American League Rookie of the Year Huston Street having fallen out of favor as the closer, that role is fairly up in the air as well. Brad Ziegler has it for now, but fellow rookie Joey Devine might be the long-term solution -- and Street figures to get a shot at winning his job back next spring if he isn't traded over the winter.
After watching Braden, Devine and Ziegler handcuff his club Monday night in the opener of a three-game series at Angels Stadium, however, Halos skipper Mike Scioscia left the impression that he's not expecting Oakland's general manager Billy Beane's rebuilding process to take long.
"They've pitched well all year," Scioscia said. "They've played us tough all year. Now they have that kid who has really come on as their closer, and they're getting outs late in the game.
"They're going to be tough."
Gonzalez, who was named the Triple-A Pacific Coast League's top left-handed starter Monday, gets the ball for his fifth career start Wednesday night in the series finale against the AL West leaders, providing the young lefty with another stiff test early in his career.
He's also faced the AL East-leading Rays and the AL Central-leading White Sox since being called up from Triple-A Sacramento on Aug. 6.
"Playing the best is always a good experience," A's manager Bob Geren said. "It seems like the past month or so, almost every team we've played has been in contention. ... That can only help a young player."
OAK: LHP Gio Gonzalez (1-2, 6.52 ERA)
Gonzalez, who had been rocked by the White Sox in his previous outing, improved in his last start Friday against the Mariners. He gave up two earned runs in five innings and struck out seven on the way to a no-decision. Right-handed batters are hitting .283 against Gonzalez, but lefties are batting just .227. He has 18 strikeouts in his 19 1/3 career innings, none of them against the Angels.
LAA: LHP Joe Saunders (14-6, 3.37 ERA)
Saunders seemed to unravel after three scoreless innings against the Twins last Friday, allowing a two-run homer to Delmon Young in the fourth and was unable to get out of the sixth. Saunders had given up nine hits and was charged with six earned runs, ending a string of 11 consecutive starts with three or fewer earned runs allowed. He didn't register a strikeout and hit one batter without a walk, never finding his customary command. Saunders is 2-0 with a 1.26 ERA against the A's this year in two starts and is 4-1 with a 4.02 ERA in seven lifetime outings.
Right-handed reliever Keith Foulke, on the disabled list with a sore shoulder, threw in a simulated game with a twist Monday in Phoenix. "It was indoors," Geren said. "I guess they had a pretty good rain." Among the batters who faced Foulke, who threw 25 pitches in a pain-free session, was injured outfielder Ryan Sweeney (sprained right thumb). ... Mike Sweeney, on the DL while rehabbing his surgically repaired knees, went 0-for-3 as Sacramento's designated hitter on Monday, dropping his batting average on the rehab assignment to .083 (1-for-12). ... Gallagher, out with arm fatigue, made 40 throws at 120 feet in the outfield here Tuesday. He's eligible to come off the DL on Sept. 4. ... Duchscherer, who had a cortisone shot late last week in his hip, hasn't yet started throwing again and likely won't be back in the rotation until mid-September. ... The A's, who split a four-game set in Seattle over the weekend to snap an Oakland-record streak of 11 consecutive losing series, have won the opener in each of their past six series. They are 26-18 (.591 winning percentage) in series openers this year, 34-53 (.391) in all other games. ... The A's will host a Japanese Heritage Day on Saturday, Sept. 20. For each $30 Field Level Outfield ticket purchased for that day's 1:05 p.m. PT game against the visiting Mariners at McAfee Coliseum, $6 will be allocated to help Japanese and Japanese-American communities, youth baseball, Bay Area Parks and Recreation and local education. There will be a traditional sake barrel-breaking ceremony in the parking lot at 11:30 a.m., followed by cultural presentations on the field before the first pitch.
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Official game notes
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Thursday: Athletics (Dana Eveland, 8-8, 4.30) vs. Twins (Nick Blackburn, 9-8, 3.78), 7:05 p.m. PT
Friday: Athletics (Dan Meyer, 0-2, 5.95) vs. Twins (Kevin Slowey, 10-8, 3.74), 7:05 p.m. PT
Saturday: Athletics (Dallas Braden, 4-3, 4.13) vs. Twins (TBD), 6:05 p.m. PT