A's, Rangers in race ... for second

OAKLAND — At this stage of the season, Ron Washington would like to see his Texas Rangers get above .500 and stay put in second place in the AL West. The Oakland As are looking to pass Texas in the standings if possible.

"That’s the goal," Washington said. “I’d like to shoot for finishing over .500 and to see everybody keep pushing until there are no more games on the schedule."

The manager couldn’t argue with his club’s effort Thursday. Hank Blalock homered, Chris Davis and Joaquin Arias each drove in two runs and the Rangers beat the A’s 6-1.

Dustin Nippert (3-4) matched his career high with seven strikeouts in five strong innings, allowing four hits and one run to win back-to-back starts for the Rangers — another impressive outing in just his fourth start of 2008 despite a high pitch count.

Nippert doesn’t want to think ahead to next year and the possibility he could make the Rangers’ rotation.

"I’m looking at it as an opportunity to start, that’s it, to go out there and give the team a chance to win every day," he said. Davis hit a two-run double in the third after Arias put the Rangers ahead with a two-run single in the second against Dallas Braden (5-4), who had gone 2-0 over his previous three outings.

Josh Hamilton, who left after the seventh with a bruised right foot, had three hits and is 16-for-31 over his last nine games. Every Texas starter had at least one hit.

Washington expected Hamilton to be back in the lineup Friday night after he fouled two balls off the same part of his foot and asked to come out of the game.

The A’s (67-79) would like nothing more than to catch the Rangers (72-75), but that might be a tough task. Oakland avoided a last-place finish a year ago by moving past the Rangers on the final day of the season. Cliff Pennington’s sacrifice fly in the sixth put the A’s on the board, but they could do little else and wound up with only four hits. "We can swing the bat. When we get good pitching, we can go out there and compete with anybody," Washington said. "Everybody contributed. It was a good win."

Oakland opened its final homestand of the season with the first of 10 games at the Coliseum. But the crowds are dismal and the team hasn’t won more than two in a row since a four-game winning streak from June 13-17.

The Rangers were eliminated from playoff contention with Wednesday’s loss at Seattle but can finish better than third in the division for the first time since 1999, when Texas won the West.

Oakland’s Jack Cust struck out in his first two at-bats and again in the eighth for his 176th strikeout this year to break Jose Canseco’s franchise record of 175 Ks set in 1986.

“I guess I’ll be in the record books here. Obviously it’s something I do,” Cust said. “It’s something I’d like not to do but it’s just part of my game. Usually I lead every league I play in in strikeouts and walks. It seems like it’s coming true again.”

Braden lasted only four innings, allowing six runs — five earned — and nine hits. His pickoff in the first inning was Oakland’s 33rd of the year, tops in the majors and the most since the New York Yankees had 37 in 1997.

"I just really didn’t feel like I was establishing what I wanted to establish early enough in the counts and early enough in the game," said Braden, who tweaked his groin early. "That kind of throws your game plan out the window when you have to pitch from behind."

Injured Rangers slugger Milton Bradley missed his second straight game with a strained muscle in his lower back, but took some swings and did some running. He’s hoping to return to the lineup Friday night.

"I can’t miss all these lefties," Bradley said of the Oakland starters. "I love lefties."