A's Harden back on schedule to be No. 2 starter against Yankees
By Janie McCauley
1:11 p.m. March 15, 2006
PHOENIX – Rich Harden walked around for much of the winter wearing a sling on his surgically repaired non-throwing shoulder, keeping him from doing much with his upper body.
He's finding his rhythm again this spring, and the Oakland right-hander got back on schedule Wednesday with a simulated game after missing his start last week because of food poisoning.
Harden, sidelined for more than two months in 2005 with two separate injuries, made 78 pitches to all minor leaguers, allowing one hit, striking out two and walking one.
He faced 17 batters and reached 60 pitches after four innings and was a little bit tired, but told Athletics manager Ken Macha it would be good for his endurance to go back out for the fifth.
While the feel of a simulated game can never match the real thing, Harden was still pleased with his progress – facing live hitting is such an important step for pitchers as spring training winds down.
“It's always a different intensity,” Harden said. “I try to make it as close as possible. ... Overall it went pretty well. It's a matter of getting my pitches in, just getting comfortable on the mound again.”
Harden is scheduled to go again Monday at home against the Seattle Mariners, his third-to-last exhibition start before his first slated regular-season outing April 4 against the New York Yankees in Oakland.
Macha monitored the 1½-hour session along with pitching coach Curt Young, assistant general manager David Forst and other club officials on the A's off day.
The 24-year-old Harden, who began last year as the team's No. 2 starter behind Barry Zito, went 10-5 with a 2.53 ERA despite being limited to 19 starts and 128 innings. He was an 11-game winner in 2004.
Harden spent May 14 to June 20 on the disabled list with a strained left oblique muscle, then more than a month again from Aug. 20 to Sept. 24 with an injured muscle below his throwing shoulder.
“Throw the ball, Rich!” Macha hollered from a nearby chair at one point.
Macha and Young thought Harden made the most of the time. Macha considered using Harden in Tuesday's game in Peoria against the defending NL West champion Padres but opted against it because Harden would have been pitching on three days' rest and would have been limited.
“To me, it was a no-brainer,” Macha said of the decision. “I'm extremely pleased with his outing. He's on track to be where he needs to be when the season starts.”
In his Cactus League debut last Friday, Harden allowed one run – a homer to the Kansas City Royals' Joe McEwing on a blustery day in Surprise – and two hits, walked two and struck out four in three innings.
Harden used all his pitches Wednesday, throwing better sliders as he got deeper into the outing.
“I thought he was strong,” catcher Kurt Suzuki said. “He came out throwing a good fastball to both sides of the plate. His curves and changes, he kept them down. He threw a couple splits to get a feeling for it. He looks solid. (His fastball) is probably nowhere near where it is when he's full strength, but he was getting it in there pretty hot.”