HOUSTON — The Texas Rangers return to Oakland on Monday for the first time since their late-season collapse last year.The Rangers could have clinched a third consecutive American League West title by winning one of the final three games against the A’s to end last season, but didn’t.“They play us tough,” manager Ron Washington said. “The last year and a half, they’ve played us as tough as any team we’ve played. We have to find a way to play better when we go into Oakland.”The A’s have struggled of late, losing eight of their last 11 after Sunday’s loss to the Mariners. But, as Washington said, the A’s seem to play well whenever the Rangers are in town.Oakland won seven of nine meetings at O.co Coliseum last year.“They’re obviously a good ballclub and we’ve got to be ready to play,” Ian Kinsler said. “They won the division last year and we’d like to regain that.”Justin Grimm starts the series opener for the Rangers, and had success against the A’s over a three-inning relief outing last year. He allowed one run on four hits with two strikeouts.“It’s just another game and I want to have a good outing,” Grimm said. “We haven’t won my last two starts, so my main thing is getting a ‘W.’”Getting hotDavid Murphy felt some pain and tightness in his back a day after he slammed it into the left-field wall, but it wasn’t enough to keep him out of the lineup.Murphy started against Astros right-hander Jordan Lyles, and appears to be coming out of his month-long slump. Murphy had a homer Friday, a double Saturday and homered again Sunday.“Things are starting to click a little bit,” Murphy said. “It’s just a matter of getting that feel back.”Murphy has been splitting starts in left field with Jeff Baker as the Rangers faced 11 left-handed starters over 18 games, but should get more playing time with mostly right-handers scheduled to start in the upcoming series against Oakland and Detroit.Regulars restNelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler were both given days off Sunday by Ron Washington.Cruz had played in every game and, despite three homers the past week, he had been batting .150 on the road trip.Kinsler had a rough game Saturday, going 1 for 5 and committing two errors on one play.That left Washington with an interesting lineup. Leury Garcia was at second and batted second, Craig Gentry was in center and batted sixth and Leonys Martin made his first start of the season in right and batted ninth.Washington said he liked the things he could do with Garcia in the two-hole such as bunt and hit-and-run. He went on to say that Gentry is the team’s best center fielder, which is why he had him in center and Martin in right.Staying positiveIt’s been a frustrating start to the season for left-hander Michael Kirkman, who went into Sunday’s game with a 9.31 ERA over his last 10 outings.Kirkman struggled Saturday by allowing the two batters he faced in the ninth inning to reach, and didn’t record an out. He bounced back Sunday, though, with a perfect inning of relief in the seventh. Kirkman said beforehand that his problems were more mental than physical.“My stuff is there, my body feels good, just something is missing right now,” Kirkman said. “There’s got to be a turning point, so I’ve got to stay positive and have confidence in myself to get there.”Briefly• Catcher A.J. Pierzynski, on the DL with a right oblique strain, started throwing Sunday and plans to begin hitting off a tee Monday. He still expects to be ready when he’s eligible to return on May 21.• The Rangers activated left-hander Martin Perez (broken left wrist) from the disabled list and optioned him to Double A Frisco. Perez made two medical rehabilitation starts with the RoughRiders.• Yu Darvish won his sixth game of the season Saturday, his 22nd career victory. That’s the most wins by an American League pitcher since the start of 2012.
Drew Davison, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @drewdavison