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Griffin strikes out seven over 6 2/3 innings

OAKLAND -- At some point, the amount of home runs A.J. Griffin allows will become an issue, but as far as the A's are concerned, that day has yet to come.

All three of Griffin's earned runs in Sunday's 4-0 loss to the Rangers came via the long ball, as Oakland (64-47) saw its lead in the American League West drop to 2 1/2 games after losing two of three to second-place Texas (62-50) and going 5-5 on its 10-game homestand.

Home runs have dictated Griffin's narrative all season, though he was more effective than his stat line indicates. At times, his success is all or nothing -- with the ball either landing in fielders' gloves or the stands. On Sunday, Griffin struck out seven, walked one and allowed five hits in 6 2/3 innings.

Nelson Cruz's homer to lead off the second inning and Mitch Moreland's two-run shot in the seventh upped Griffin's Major League-leading total to 28 on the season. He's allowed two home runs in each of his last four starts -- the longest streak by an A's pitcher since 2004.

"I thought he threw the ball really well," A's catcher Derek Norris said. "He made three mistakes: one mistake to [Adrian] Beltre -- which he should've been out of the inning anyway -- one mistake to Cruz and one mistake to Moreland. ... When it comes down to it, he just had a little bit of bad luck today with a couple of errors, a couple dinks and a couple home runs, and they get paid to hit mistakes, and they did today."

Texas' first run was the result of Yoenis Cespedes dropping a two-out fly ball to the warning track in left field that allowed Ian Kinsler to advance to second base, and Beltre capitalized with a single in the next at-bat.

The A's received no such luck. Texas was stellar on the defensive end, which -- along with Rangers starter Derek Holland's dominance -- stifled the A's attack, which has averaged 3.2 runs over the last 22 games.

Only Nate Freiman reached base via a hit through the first six innings against Holland, who after eight shutout innings on Sunday has tossed at least eight innings with no runs allowed in three starts this season. He also recorded 10 strikeouts against the A's, who were shut out for the ninth time this season and lost their second straight series.

"We're having a tough time putting two games in a row together," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "We've been in a little of a rut, whether it's our defense, at times it's pitching, and we haven't been timely as far as that goes, but it's the offense that's stood out for awhile now. We do have the guys that have the ability to take care of that, and we're confident we will, we just need to sustain it. Not just one game here or one there, and we can put this past us."

Whether Griffin can respond to his recent incarnation of a launching pad has yet to be seen. He's had success, going 3-2 with a 3.81 ERA over his past five starts, but there's no doubt he'd benefit from giving up fewer home runs.

"That's not really a concern of mine," Norris said. "You give up a solo home run to Nelson Cruz, what's the difference between that and giving up back-to-back doubles? It's a different conversation when maybe the number gets a little high or he leads the big leagues in home runs as a starter or something. I don't know. But as long as he's going out there and he's pitching well, if he gives up three solo home runs and pitches seven innings, three runs, that's a terrific outing."

Looming larger is the fact that the A's have lost ground on the Rangers in five of the past six days, with both teams seemingly headed in opposite directions. The A's are 1-4 over their last five games and 8-8 since the All-Star break, while the Rangers are 4-1 in their last five games and headed to play three games against the Angels and four against the Astros before returning home to Texas.

"When you're playing a team like that, you have a desire to win for sure," Griffin said. "It heightens that, definitely, and it makes it way more bittersweet when you don't take a game like that."

Every team is prone to rough patches during a 162-game season, and the A's could very well pick things back up with two series at hitter-friendly Cincinnati and Toronto on the horizon. But while the numbers may not be completely indicative of how the team is faring, they aren't devoid of truth either.

The fact of the matter is the A's are batting .212 and scoring fewer than 3.5 runs per game in their past 22 games.

"Is it contagious, no," center fielder Coco Crisp said of the team's overall undesirable performance at the plate. "When you're hitting the ball hard and it's not falling, it's going to result most likely in a loss."

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