Harden came within one out of becoming the first Oakland pitcher in more than four years to record consecutive shutouts, combining with Huston Street on a four-hitter in a 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday night.
Harden (7-4) struck out eight and walked three. The right-hander, who was sidelined more than five weeks because of a strained left oblique muscle, is 5-1 with a 1.34 ERA in six starts since ending his first career stint on the disabled list.
"We couldn't do much against him," Darin Erstad of the Angels said. "He throws 98 and he's got a good split and a good slider. He's starting to command his stuff. He's obviously got a great future. You're going to have to play your 'A' game when you face him."
Harden had retired 19 of 20 batters before giving up a two-out single in the ninth to Steve Finley. The A's conceded second base to Finley, and Bengie Molina chased Harden with an RBI single to center on his 113th pitch.
"My pitch count was getting up there and I was getting a little tired," Harden said. "I was a little disappointed because I wanted to finish it."
Now that Mulder and Hudson are pitching for other teams, Harden has picked up the slack and emerged as one of baseball's best young starters.
"I don't want to try and do anything different just because those guys aren't here. I kind of try to put that in the back of my mind and just pitch," Harden said. "It isn't any different than the past couple of years. When I first came up, there was a lot of pressure on me, too. Either way, I have to take the same approach out there.
"I was very fortunate to come up at a time when all three of those guys were here, and was able to spend a year-and-a-half with them. And Zito's still here, so I can still learn a lot from him," Harden said.
In his previous outing last Thursday against Texas, Harden retired the first 22 batters in a two-hitter for the first complete-game victory of his career. The last A's pitcher to post shutouts in consecutive starts was Mulder, who beat Arizona 3-0 with a one-hitter July 6, 2001, and then the Los Angeles Dodgers 6-0 with a six-hitter six days later.
"I gave him a chance to," manager Ken Macha said. "If he wasn't pitching a shutout, he wouldn't have been out there for the ninth at all."
The Angels' other hits were a leadoff single in the third by Chone Figgins and a leadoff double in the second by Finley, who was subsequently tagged out by Harden at home in a rundown. The play began when Macier Izturis hit a dribbler toward the mound and Harden missed the ball with his glove before inadvertently kicking it to catcher Jason Kendall as Finley broke from third base.
Street got Izturis on a fly ball for his sixth save. The Athletics are a major league-best 31-13 since May 29.
"It doesn't surprise me one bit. They do it every year," Erstad said. "They never start off real great, but they always play fantastic in the second half of the season, and they're doing it again. We always said it was going to be a dogfight all the way, and that's what it's going to be."
"It looks like he's figuring things out quickly," Washburn said of Harden. "He's only 23, and he's already one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball. The A's have had a history of great pitching, and to me, Harden might be the best of all of them in terms of potential and stuff."
Washburn, whose previous five victories included four combined shutouts, gave up his first run when Mark Ellis led off the third with a triple that skipped past Garret Anderson in the left field corner and Kendall followed with a sacrifice fly.
Jay Payton made it 2-0 in the sixth with an RBI double.
- Oakland DH Erubiel Durazo, out of the lineup since May 25 because of tendinitis in his left elbow, will need season-ending surgery and is expected to be sidelined an additional nine to 12 months.
- Los Angeles' Vladimir Guerrero was 0-for-4 and has three hits in his last 38 at-bats.
- Washburn had allowed just two home runs in 65 2/3 innings before Johnson's homer.
- Eric Chavez struck out three times and grounded into a double play, making him 3-for-30 against the Angels this season.