ARLINGTON, Texas -- For much of this season, the A's fixed their sights on catching the division-leading Los Angeles Angels and the wild card-contending Seattle Mariners.

They may want to shift the focus to that team in the opposing dugout this weekend, which happens to be playing some pretty good baseball.

The Texas Rangers took it to the A's for a second straight night, showing another Oakland starting pitcher an early exit in a 7-3 victory in front of 32,476 at Rangers Ballpark.

The victory was Texas' 11th in its past 13 games and pulled them to within a game of catching the A's for third place in the American League West. The A's, who have lost 10 of 14, lead the Rangers by two games in the win column.

A fight between third and fourth place may not seem like much in a four-team division. But the A's haven't finished in the AL West cellar since 1998, and that alone would seem to stoke the competitive fire within.

"Hopefully we finish strong," right fielder Jack Cust said. "I don't want to finish in last place. I know no one else does."

After falling behind 5-0 on Friday night, the A's found themselves in a 6-0 hole Saturday. Right-hander Chad Gaudin (10-11), struggling to regain his form in his final few starts of 2007, allowed a career high-tying 10 hits and six earned runs and didn't make it out of the fourth inning.

Just as Dan Haren did when he was chased after 4ยช innings Friday, Gaudin insisted he was fine physically. Manager Bob Geren backed up that claim. Still, Gaudin's ERA was 2.88 on July 5, and in 12 starts since then it's risen to 4.47.

"Unsatisfied," Gaudin said in describing his state of mind. "In the whole (scope) of things, just aggravated, but trying to learn from what mistakes I've made."

He surrendered a homer to the second batter he faced, Ian Kinsler, in a two-run first inning. The Rangers added four more in the fourth. Gaudin allowed a one-out homer to Hank Blalock, who turned on a sinker that floated up and in.

Texas pushed three more runs across on singles up the middle that weren't hit particularly hard, but regardless, Gaudin couldn't slam the door after getting two outs.

A couple of bright spots did stand out for the A's.

Lefty Dan Meyer, recently recalled from the minors, relieved Gaudin and looked sharp. He went 3-1/3 innings, allowing two hits and one run with one walk and four strikeouts.

Such an effort might garner Meyer, 26, some consideration for a start before the season ends.

"It was a solid outing," Geren said. "It was nice to see that. We gave him an extended outing and he pitched well."

Nick Swisher, who has been mired in a nasty slump and has been dropped to sixth in the batting order three straight games now, went 2-for-3 with a double. He had struck out at least twice in seven of his past eight games, but was not rung up Saturday. He also walked for the first time in five games.

Swisher credited a pre-game talk he had with hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo for his improvement. Van Burkleo stressed the mental side of the game and the things Swisher should and shouldn't be thinking about at the plate.

"He was kind of like a shrink-slash-hitting coach," Swisher said.

In his first at-bat, Swisher hit a line drive squarely off the left knee of Rangers starter Luis Mendoza. Mendoza -- a last-minute replacement for Kason Gabbard, who was scratched with a thumb blister -- was making his major league debut.

Mendoza lay on the ground for several scary minutes before finishing the second inning. He did not return for the third, but X-rays showed just a bruised knee.

"He was laying there a long time," Swisher said. "When he popped up, I felt a lot better."

Swisher pointed out the steady diet of curves and changeups he's been seeing as proof of the way pitchers are attacking him.

"I'm learning," he said. "Maybe I need to start sitting on that off-speed stuff until I prove I can hit it. Then I can (adjust) to the fastball."

Contact Joe Stiglich at jstiglic@bayareanewsgroup.com.

RANGERS 7, A'S 3

  • TODAY: A's (Lenny DiNardo 8-8) at Rangers (Kevin Millwood 9-11), 12:05 p.m. Radio: 106.9-FM, 1550-AM