BOSTON -- The Athletics sensed a different kind of purpose when they touched down in Boston for their last road series of the season, no closer than 15 1/2 games to a playoff spot.

No Oakland squad has finished that far out of the playoffs since 1998. No Oakland squad, for that matter, has used 54 players during a season (the 1915 Philadelphia A's used 56 players), 18 outfielders or 12 centerfielders, like this one has. And until this season, only the 1992 squad had used the disabled list as many as 22 times.

Twenty-four pitchers, 20 relievers and 30 non-pitchers: all of them marks met by the A's this season, all of them within range of club records.

"Some people are calling us the 'Triple-A's,' you know?" Nick Swisher said. "You kind of get a little bit upset with that sometimes. But I mean, if you look at it, and step back, that's really what it is."

As some of Oakland's keener fans might have observed, and as fans in Boston and New York would be happy to concur, going green isn't in itself a bad thing. Rookies have starred in a number of playoff races around baseball. These A's, only eight of whom appeared in last year's American League Championship Series against Detroit (just three of them position players), have been victimized by a whole host of other problems.

One of them hasn't been the play of Jack Hannahan. The team's starting third baseman since Eric Chavez underwent right shoulder surgery, Hannahan has taken the job and run with it.

He is batting .342 in his last 10 games, running his season average to .286. More impressively, the rookie from St. Paul, Minn., who faced Swisher's Ohio State Buckeyes as a star at Minnesota -- "I knew what his abilities were," Swisher said -- owns an .848 OPS in 123 Major League at-bats, bolstered by a .393 on-base percentage.

But, said manager Bob Geren, the "first thing that stands out is he plays tremendous defense."

"He's a good one," Geren said. "We're used to the best defense in baseball playing there [in Chavez]. When he came in, he's played very, very, very well. And that stands out, obviously, right off the bat."

"And offensively," Geren added, "he has done the same type of things I've been talking about. He battles every at-bat. You have to make real good pitches to get him out."

The adjustment process, Hannahan said, has been relatively simple.

"You've got your big names and a lot of TV cameras," Hannahan said, "and a lot of nice food up here, but after all that's said and done, it is the same game, and it's 27 outs, and ... it's about how quickly you can adapt to it."

You want purpose?

"The thing about it is for us," Swisher said, "is if you look at the guys we have, a lot of guys are first-year guys trying to make a name for themselves. We've got a lot of guys going into first-year arbitration. You've got some guys going into free agency. So if that's not enough to get your butt in gear, then I don't think you're ever going to find anything."

More rookies: Hannahan isn't the only one who has impressed.

"These young guys coming up," Swisher said, trailing off. "Hannahan. Jerry Blevins. I know I'm missing someone, because there are like 20 of them."

Daric Barton, for his part, started his Major League career on an 18-for-54 binge and, in his first at-bat on Tuesday night, rocketed a Curt Schilling fastball into the gap beyond the Fenway Park visitors' bullpen for a long home run.

Barton now has reached base safely in all 14 games he's played in the big leagues, and he has hits in eight straight games.

"Strike-zone discipline," said Geren, listing Barton's skills, "the ability to use the whole field, to hit lefties and righties and off-speed and hard stuff, too. ... He's got a taste of like every type of pitcher and he's handled himself well."

So seeing some of the talent the A's have coming up as helped some of the veterans get excited about a fresh start next season.

"We're going to take a lot of positive things out of this," Swisher said. "Me, I'm going to throw away all the negative stuff, the records, the statistics, out the window. And just get myself ready this offseason."

Harden update: In the wake of Rich Harden's rotational scratch Sunday, Geren was relieved to announce that the injury-riddled former ace had been examined and diagnosed with "a little bit of biceps tendinitis."

"And he'll be fine," Geren said, calling it just "a minor setback."

Geren would not say whether Harden would finish up the season in the instructional league.

"He's just going to let it calm down a little bit," Geren said.

Dallas Braden will fill Harden's rotation spot when it comes up again Saturday.

Weathered? The A's lead the league in players used. They also, mused Geren while looking at a spotless blue Boston sky, pace the league in nice weather.

"We've had the best weather in the Majors," Geren said. "All year. Two rain delays all year. No rainouts. And a few hot days, but not many. And no real freezing days, either."

It was a breezy 86 degrees in Boston at 3 p.m. PT on Tuesday evening.

A's abbreviations: Designated hitter Mike Piazza was not in the starting lineup Tuesday night, more than four months after he injured his shoulder on a slide into third at Fenway Park. It was just a day off. ... Reliever Alan Embree was not with the team while taking care of a family emergency. He's expected to rejoin the team in Oakland on Friday.

On deck: Innings workhorse Joe Blanton (14-10, 3.84 ERA) will get his last start of the 2007 season on Wednesday against Boston lefty Jon Lester (4-0, 4.45 ERA). First pitch is slated for 2 p.m. The A's then return home to finish off the season with three games against the Angels.