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OAK@HOU: Hammel discusses start, 8-1 loss to Astros

On Tuesday, Jason Hammel took a critical step toward turning Oakland's Big Four -- Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija, Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir -- into the Big Five.

Hammel threw 5 2/3 shutout innings against Tampa Bay en route to his first win with the A's. Eleven runners reached base, but Hammel sidestepped trouble and lowered his 9.53 ERA with Oakland to 7.15.

His followup comes Sunday at the Coliseum in the last of four games against the Twins.

"I know what I can do as a pitcher, and right now it's that tough part of the season that you just got to get through," Hammel said. "I'm going to continue to battle, continue to work hard, like I keep telling you guys. I'll find myself and get right back into the swing of things."

In 17 starts with the Cubs this season, Hammel posted a 2.98 ERA, but since being traded along with Samardzija, his walk rate has spiked and his strikeout rate has dipped. Tuesday's outing, though far from dominant, could be just what the righty needed to get rolling.

"I think that could get the monkey off his back a little bit, because when he was in Chicago, we saw the type of numbers he was putting up, the kind of pitcher that he is," said A's closer Sean Doolittle. "You could see him pitching with a lot of confidence out there, and hopefully it's a sign of good things to come moving forward."

Hammel will face Phil Hughes, who is 11-8 with a 4.01 ERA. On April 9, Hughes allowed four runs to the A's in five innings.

Hughes has done his best work on the road this season, going 7-3 with a 2.92 ERA in 12 starts. He has 66 strikeouts versus just six walks in those outings.

Against the Padres on Tuesday, Hughes tossed six innings of one-run ball despite battling a broken fingernail on his right index finger.

"I was able to locate my pitches probably the best I have in quite a while," Hughes said. "That always helps. I thought my stuff was pretty good outside of the one [home run] where the ball came over the plate."

Twins: Mauer likely to join team on Monday
First baseman Joe Mauer's rehab assignment with Class A Cedar Rapids has been going well, and the Twins remain hopeful he'll be able to join them when they begin a three-game series in Houston on Monday.

Mauer, who has been on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right oblique since July 3, went 3-for-5 while playing nine innings at first base Friday night and reported no issues. He was back in the lineup at first base for his fourth rehab game Saturday, and went 2-for-4.

"He's doing fine," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We'll see where we'll go from there. Everything seems to be going good."

Gardenhire said the plan remains for Mauer to be activated from the DL on Monday as long as everything continues to go well.

A's: Sogard having success since All-Star break
After a frustrating first half in which he was on the chopping block multiple times, Eric Sogard could have understandably spent his All-Star break mulling over everything that had gone wrong. Instead, his mind was anywhere but the baseball diamond.

Sogard's home was burglarized while the A's were in Seattle, so he spent the break moving his family into a new place. Now, he realizes there may have been a bright side to the terrible situation. Since then, he has been hitting well and playing on a regular basis.

"I think the All-Star break definitely helped a lot, just kind of allowed me to get my mind off baseball for a few days there," Sogard said Saturday. "Obviously moving out of the house, having to deal with that kind of made me take my mind off baseball."

Sogard has started 14 of 21 games since the All-Star break, including six in a row after Nick Punto went on the disabled list with a strained right hamstring. Clearing his head certainly helped, but just as vital to Sogard's turnaround was his work with batting coach Chili Davis to shorten his swing.

"That's what's fueled my success in the second half," said Sogard, "is being able to recognize pitches early and wait to the last second, just take my short swing to it, keep that line drive swing."

Worth noting
• A's closer Sean Doolittle set a franchise record for saves by a lefty on Friday when he recorded his 18th save, exceeding Alan Embree's 2007 mark.

• Twins' first baseman Chris Colabello was optioned to Triple-A Friday night to make room for right-hander Trevor May, who made his big league debut Saturday.

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