OAKLAND, Calif. -- Brandon McCarthy just wanted to give the Athletics' bullpen a rest. The right-hander did far more than that, turning in the best performance by an Oakland starter in more than a month.
McCarthy carried a shutout into the eighth inning then settled for a combined seven-hitter, and the Athletics got another solid game from hot-hitting Cliff Pennington while beating the Tampa Bay Rays 6-1 on Tuesday.
"That's as good as I've seen [McCarthy]," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "Ball down in the zone, good movement on everything. To be able to go that deep - obviously he was economical on top of that -- it was a terrific performance."
McCarthy hadn't made it out of the sixth inning in his previous three starts and was knocked around by Detroit in his most recent outing on July 20.
The lanky right-hander, who missed more than six weeks while on the disabled list with a stress reaction in his right scapula, rebounded nicely against Tampa Bay. McCarthy (3-5) pitched with runners on base in each of the first six innings but worked out of trouble each time to win for only the second time in his last 12 starts.
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"A couple I left elevated they hit hard but for the most part I felt like I was able to keep it down a little better than I have recently, so it didn't hurt anything," McCarthy said. "Since I've come back I haven't really gotten as deep into games as I would like so that was kind of a priority tonight. I wanted to make sure I got as deep as I could."
It was the best outing by an Oakland starter since All-Star Gio Gonzalez allowed one hit over eight innings in a 1-0 win over Florida on June 28.
Pennington had three hits to remain the hottest hitter in the major leagues since the All-Star break, Conor Jackson went 3 for 4 and Hideki Matsui added an RBI double as Oakland won for the third time in four games. The A's are 7-4 since the break.
Ben Zobrist homered and Johnny Damon hit his 506th double to tie Babe Ruth for 47th on baseball's all-time list but the Rays continued to struggle with men on base and lost for the 10th time in 14 games.
"That's been one of our biggest drawbacks this season," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "It hasn't been one of the strong points. We just have been very inconsistent on offense. That's where we are coming up a little short right now."
Pennington singled twice and had an RBI double in the sixth, extending his career-high hitting streak to 10 games. He raised his average to .500 (18 for 36) since the All-Star break.
That's been a big factor in the A's recent success. Oakland has scored four or more runs in each of its last six games -- the club's longest such streak of the season.
McCarthy, who struck out three and walked two, lost his shutout bid with one out in the seventh when Zobrist homered for the second straight game, but retired the next two batters.
Grant Balfour pitched the ninth to complete the seven-hitter.
Tampa Bay starter David Price (9-9) allowed four runs over six innings and walked four -- two of which scored. The left-hander is 1-3 with two no-decisions over his last six starts.
Scott Sizemore scored on Jemile Weeks' sacrifice fly in the third, while David DeJesus drove in Josh Willingham with a sacrifice fly against Price in the fourth.
Pennington made it 3-0 when he singled leading off the fifth and scored on Matsui's double to right-center, then doubled in Sizemore in the sixth.
"You're seeing a confident player who's being very productive at this point," Melvin said.
Kurt Suzuki added a two-run double in the eighth.
The Rays stranded eight runners and are 1 for 20 with runners in scoring position during the first two games of this four-game series.
Zobrist walked his first two at-bats and flied out to right before homering in the eighth. It was the fourth home run allowed by McCarthy this season.
Zobrist leads the majors with 51 extra-base hits. ... It was the 704th consecutive game Tampa Bay has started a pitcher younger than 30 years old, tying a major league record set by the Washington Senators from, 1913-17. The Rays will break the mark Wednesday when 29-year-old James Shields takes the mound. ... Tampa Bay optioned LHP Cesar Ramos to Triple-A Durham and recalled RHP Jay Buente. Buente relieved Price in the seventh. ... Matsui started in left field for a second straight game while Willingham rested his sore neck. Willingham, who received a cortisone shot after Monday night's game, was the DH. ... Sizemore tied career-highs with three walks and three runs. ... Tampa Bay's B.J. Upton is in a 3-for-38 slump.