OAKLAND, Calif. -- Tommy Hunter already has shown some remarkable poise on the mound, an uncanny ability to make pitches when the Rangers need to get out of a jam.
Now, the 23-year-old right-hander is beginning to show the kind of big-picture understanding that Texas will need if it's going to make a run for the playoffs.
Hunter pitched seven solid innings, allowing three hits and a pair of walks, and the Rangers defeated the Oakland Athletics 6-4 on Thursday to remain 4½ games back in the AL West and avoid their first four-game sweep since April 2008.
"It's what I'm supposed to do," Hunter said. "We used the bullpen a lot lately, and we needed to be fresh going into Anaheim. The big thing was getting a win going into a big series. I threw a lot of offspeed pitches. The changeup is becoming a pitch I can rely on and which makes all the other pitches better."
Michael Young hit his 18th homer of the season, Hank Blalock added his 21st and David Murphy and Andruw Jones each drove in a run for the Rangers, who are chasing Los Angeles for the division lead.
But it was Hunter (4-2) who came through when it mattered, shutting down the Athletics after Nomar Garciaparra gave Oakland a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Hunter allowed three runs -- two earned -- while striking out four.
"He had all his pitches working, moved the ball around the zone and kept them off balance," Texas manager Ron Washington said. "We put some runs on the board, and Tommy kept the momentum in our dugout. That's exactly what you what to see."
Garciaparra, Rajai Davis and Scott Hairston each hit RBI doubles for the Athletics, who managed a run off C.J. Wilson in the ninth before he finished for his 14th save.
Meanwhile, A's starter Trevor Cahill, who entered the matchup 1-5 with an 8.31 ERA over his last seven starts, fell to 6-11. Despite striking out a career-high six, he allowed five runs on eight hits and two walks in six innings.
"I did do a lot better as far as mechanics go, but I guess it didn't show in the loss," Cahill said. "The fact that I was able to go a bit deeper and throw more strikes is a plus, but other than that, it's hard to think of any positives when you lose."
The 21-year-old rookie has allowed at least one homer in each of his last nine starts and 25 this season, second-most in the AL and the most allowed by a rookie in Oakland history.
"He threw the ball better today," A's manager Bob Geren said. "He threw a lot more strikes, but when you're around the plate a lot, home runs can happen. We just didn't give him enough run support."
The Rangers' two homers extended their major league-leading total to 163.
"We scored a couple of runs and left it up to Tommy," Young said. "He locked it up. He kept his composure, stayed with it and kept competing."
Cahill was pulled with no out in the seventh, and Russ Springer allowed an RBI single to Jones. Santiago Casilla and Jeff Gray, who was recalled Thursday from Triple-A Sacramento, combined for two innings of shutout ball.
While the A's hit the road for three-game sets against Kansas City and Baltimore, Texas will travel to Los Angeles, where they will be joined by Julio Borbon. The outfielder, who was recalled from Triple-A Oklahoma City following Thursday's game, was hitting .307 with two home runs and 34 RBI in the minors.
"This series didn't end up the way we wanted it but we made an adjustment, played much better and moved on," Young said. "We're playing a good club and it should be a fun series. You want to play these kind of games in August and September. It will be a good test and a good challenge."
The A's optioned RHP Chad Reineke to Triple-A Sacramento. ... Saltalamacchia left the game following the first inning with soreness in his right shoulder. "Call it fatigue," Washington said after the game. "We'll assess it on Friday." ... INF Esteban German saw his first major league action since Sept. 28, 2008, with Kansas City. He went 0 for 4 but scored two runs. ... The A's doubled three times and have a major league-best 55 doubles since the All-Star break. ... Ellis snapped his season-high 10-game hitting streak. ... Rookie Tommy Everidge has reached base safely in all 10 games since being selected from Sacramento on July 28.