OAKLAND -- Oakland A's manager Bob Geren gave all the respect in the world to the top second basemen around Major League Baseball, but he thinks the best one plays in Oakland.

"I think he's the best second baseman in baseball," Geren said. "He really understands the game."

Geren wasn't just talking about offense when he made this comment, but the whole package and Mark Ellis' entire package consists of being perhaps the best defensive second baseman in the game.

Last season, Ellis had the highest fielding percentage in baseball history for a second baseman at .997, and this year he isn't far behind that.

Ellis has committed just four errors this year and has a fielding percentage of .992. After Saturday's game with the Angels, he had gone 70 straight games without committing an error.

The 70-game streak ties an Oakland franchise record, set by Rafael Bournigal, who played with Oakland from 1996-98.

Ellis is also an offensive threat at the plate, leading the American League in home runs for a second sacker with 14 heading into Sunday. He had driven in 48 and was hitting a solid .260 up to that point.

"He is still improving as a hitter," Geren said. "He's one of the smartest players around. He just understands the game of baseball."

The 14 home runs is also a career high for Ellis, and he has 50 more games to try to add to that.

Expecting Esteban: A's starter Esteban Loaiza, who has been hurt all season, appears to be continuing on his path back to the rotation.

Loaiza threw his scheduled side session and will be making a start at Triple-A Sacramento on Monday, throwing a maximum of 80 pitches. After that, he will make one more rehab start, in which he will throw a maximum of 100 pitches.

After that, Geren and the A's are hopeful Loaiza will be rejoining the A's rotation.

"I hope so," Geren said. "He's a pitcher that we've missed. We all know when he's healthy how good he can be."

Murphy scratched: Just about 40 minutes before game time on Sunday, A's shortstop Donnie Murphy was scratched with stiffness in his lower back.

This isn't something the A's like to hear, considering Eric Chavez just landed on the disabled list with the same thing, but it gave an opportunity to J.J. Furmaniak.

Furmaniak was called up when Chavez went down and was making his first start with the A's. It will be his first Major League start since Oct. 1, 2005, when he started for the Pirates against the Brewers. He started at second base that day and was 2-for-4 with a triple and an RBI.

Dribblers: Catcher Kurt Suzuki was back in the lineup, two days after being hit in the hand by a Scot Shields fastball. Suzuki didn't start Saturday's game, which was a day game after a night game, but he did appear as a defensive replacement in the eighth inning. ... Geren has not received an update on injured pitcher Rich Harden for a couple of days, but the last time the skipper had heard, the righty had not begun throwing and was still working on his strengthening program.

Up next: A's lefty Dallas Braden (1-6, 5.28) will be opposed by Rangers lefty John Rheinecker (1-0, 5.74) in the opener of a three-game series on Monday in Texas. Game time will be 5:35 p.m. PT.