A's bats stifled by Rangers' hurlers

A's bats stifled by Rangers

OAKLAND -- You know it's been a tough night when the highlight is a lowlight, and that was the case for the A's on Thursday.

They went down, 6-1, at the hands of the heavy-hitting Rangers in the opener of a four-game series at McAfee Coliseum, and it might have been Oakland's most non-descript game of the year.

Even perpetually upbeat A's manager Bob Geren struggled to find a silver lining.

When asked about lefty starter Dallas Braden, who gave up five runs on seven hits and three walks over the first three innings, the skipper said: "I thought he was fairly sharp early. They just linked a lot of hits together."

Hey, it was an incongruous kind of night.

Enter the highlight/lowlight. It was provided by Jack Cust, who fanned three times to set an Oakland record for strikeouts in a single season at 176.

Earlier in the week he passed Reggie Jackson, who struck out 171 times in 1968. On Thursday, he passed Jose Canseco, who whiffed 175 times in 1986.

"At least that's good company, I guess," deadpanned Cust.

Geren defended Cust's penchant for striking out, pointing out that with all the punchouts comes solid production across the board. That made a lot more sense than the defense of Braden's day, for Cust does lead the A's in runs, total bases, homers, RBIs, walks, slugging percentage and on-base percentage.

"It's just something I do," Cust said about striking out. "I'd like to not do it so much."

Braden's recent run of solid pitching -- 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA over his previous four starts -- came to an emphatic end as he gave up three runs in the second inning and two in the third to put Oakland in a big early hole. He was then yanked after Hank Blalock's solo homer opened the fifth.

While throwing 96 pitches over his four-plus innings of work, Braden gave up six runs (five earned) on nine hits and three walks. He said he tweaked his groin on two occasions early in the game and decided not to alert the coaches or medical staff, but when asked if it affected him, he was quick to answer, "No."

"I don't like to make excuses," Braden said. "You take full responsibility for yourself when you go out there and pitch."

Braden's counterpart, Rangers righty Dustin Nippert, was far more effective, scattering four hits while striking out seven over five innings, and Texas' bullpen followed with four innings of no-hit work.

Oakland's lone run came in the fifth, when Cust doubled, moved to third on a single by Kurt Suzuki and scored on Cliff Pennington's sacrifice fly.

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