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OAK@MIN: Griffin tosses seven innings of two-hit ball

MINNEAPOLIS -- With an AL West showdown against the Rangers looming, the A's picked a good time to be firing on all cylinders.

A.J. Griffin pitched seven strong innings to win his fourth consecutive start, and Josh Reddick homered in his return to the starting lineup as the A's beat the Twins, 8-2, on Thursday afternoon at Target Field.

The A's have won 10 of their last 13 and picked up a half-game on idle Texas with this win. They now lead the AL West by 3 1/2 games, with a three-game series between the teams set to begin on Friday in Arlington.

Oakland outscored Minnesota 29-9 -- 26-5 the last two days after dropping the first game of the series on Tuesday night when Josh Willingham homered in the eighth to carry the Twins to a 4-3 win. The A's pounded out 33 hits the last two days, and three starting pitchers combined for a 2.50 ERA over 18 innings.

"I thought we played well this series," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "The first game was closely contested, and one pitch ends up putting us on the other side of it. Other than that, I think we played well -- a lot of focus, good defense at times. Josh Donaldson made I don't know how many good plays today at third. Pitching pretty good, swinging the bats -- it's been a good time for us here recently."

Griffin (14-9) allowed one run on two hits while walking one and striking out eight, including six of the first nine batters he faced. He retired 10 straight to begin the game, before Josmil Pinto singled to left with one out in the fourth. He faced one batter over the minimum through six innings and didn't lose his shutout until Oswaldo Arcia hit an opposite-field homer with two outs in the seventh.

"I was working quick. I had a good rhythm. I felt like me again. It was fun," said Griffin, who went almost a month without a victory before his current four-game winning streak. "I feel like I can throw any pitch in any count and throw it effectively, and it's a lot more fun when that's going on."

After scoring multiple runs in four separate innings on Wednesday night, the A's put another crooked number on the scoreboard Thursday with a four-run outburst in the third. With one out, Derek Norris doubled and Daric Barton followed with a single to put runners on the corners against Twins starter Scott Diamond (5-11).

Coco Crisp then hit a ground ball to shortstop, but he beat the relay throw to first to stay out of the double play and drive in the first run of the game. Donaldson walked and Jed Lowrie laced an RBI single to center before Yoenis Cespedes provided the big blow, a triple to deep right-center field that scored two and gave the A's a 4-0 lead.

Oakland tacked on a run on Donaldson's single in the fifth, and Chris Young tripled and scored on Reddick's sacrifice fly in the sixth to build Griffin's cushion to 6-0. In the eighth, Young led off with a double and scored on Reddick's 11th home run of the season, a two-run blast to right off reliever Brian Duensing.

Reddick, who led the A's with 32 home runs last year, has been hampered by a wrist injury all season. He's spent two stints on the disabled list, the last of which ended on Tuesday. He entered Wednesday's 18-3 win as a substitute in the fourth inning, got three plate appearances under his belt and appeared locked in again in his return to the starting lineup Thursday.

"I felt like [Wednesday] was a great rehab game -- I just didn't have to go anywhere," Reddick said. "I have to thank these guys for scoring all those runs early on for me to be able to get in there and get three at-bats, kind of get my feet back and jump back in there and get some rhythm going. It really led up to today with me feeling comfortable at the plate."

One key for Reddick is improving his productivity against left-handers. Last year he posted a .473 slugging percentage against lefties, while he entered Thursday's game slugging just .373 against them. His home run against the left-handed Duensing was a no-doubter, and he said the wrist felt fine afterward.

"I pulled my hands in on a pitch that was 92 miles-an-hour from a lefty," Reddick said. "For me to be able to do that -- hitting it out was a bonus, but just being able to hit it hard and barrel it up and pull the hands inside without the wrist hurting really felt good."

One theme for the A's this season has been the depth of their offensive attack, even with Reddick and Cespedes -- their top two run producers last year -- struggling much of the season. Now both of them are heating up; Cespedes has at least one RBI in six consecutive games and drove in six runs in the three games against the Twins.

Reddick is just happy to be part of the conversation again after a rough five months.

"It's fun to be a part of, and it's been fun watching the last two weeks," Reddick said. "It kind of stunk not being able to be a part of it, but I was hoping to come back and just jump on board and not screw up the rhythm. Hopefully, more days like this are coming. I'm not going to try to put the team on my back. I'm just going to try to do the basic baseball, move runners and try to drive them in."

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