"It might be a tossup," Blanton said. "It's probably pretty close."">
"It might be a tossup," Blanton said. "It's probably pretty close."">

Inside Pitch: Blanton & Swisher Joined at the Hip

They were like Penn and Teller when they were stuck together as roommates a couple years ago at Double-A Midland. Nick Swisher wouldn't shut up. Joe Blanton wouldn't ever talk.<br><br> They only had two things in common: 1. Both were central figures in the famed 2002 "Moneyball" draft; 2. they couldn't agree on who was the bigger redneck.<br><br> "It might be a tossup," Blanton said. "It's probably pretty close."

Think the extroverted Swisher disagrees?

"It's definitely Blanton," Swisher said. "As soon as you see the sign for his hometown, your cell phone goes out. The closest house to his is a mile away. He has like 20 cows. I could keep going. But that should be enough right there."

Blanton and Swisher are rookies on the A's this year. Both had a hand in the A's 6-3 win over Toronto on Wednesday, Blanton allowing one run in six innings, and Swisher hitting his team-leading third home run of the year.

How quickly they develop will go a long way toward determining how well the A's fare in 2005.

The duo will always have the bond from being part of the Moneyball crew. At first, Blanton didn't know what to make of all the extra attention. But now he's warmed to his place in baseball literature history.

"I looked at it like it got my name out there," Blanton said. "That's always a positive. It's an honor just to be in a book like that. I don't know how many people can say they were in a best-selling book. I think it's great."

Other Notes

Harden ‘changing' his game

Two years ago, Rich Harden started the year at Double-A Midland with 13 perfect innings.

So even though Harden turned in two very good starts to begin 2005 -- 13 1/3 innings, one run (after he departed the game) and 13 strikeouts -- he has high standards and doesn't believe he is pitching with the level of success he was two years ago.

"I'm not nearly feeling as well," Harden said. "My velocity is down a little bit. Now it's about being able to throw that changeup and pitching more. In the past, I would try to overpower guys and throw the ball past people. That's when I would get in trouble. Now I'm using all my pitches."

The changeup has been the key. Catcher Jason Kendall said it's as if Harden's changeup blinks on the way to home plate.

"I wouldn't even call it a changeup," Kendall said. "I have no idea what is it. It's hard to tell. But he has command of all four pitches and all are dominating."

Now that Tim Hudson is gone, perhaps Harden will inherit his no-decisions. Nine times last year, Harden allowed one or zero runs. But he had just three wins and six no-decisions to show for it. His first came Saturday after eight scoreless innings.

"It happens," Harden said. "They're going to put up a lot of runs. It evens out in the end. We won the game today and that's all that matters."

Zito feeling better

LHP Barry Zito vowed he was going to be more aggressive and pound the strike zone more consistently. That's exactly what he did Friday night, looking like the Zito of old.

But with no run support, he took another loss and is 0-3 this year.

The crowd was into the game, breaking into spontaneous clapping of hands with two strikes in the first inning and Zito gave them plenty of reasons to remain excited. Zito threw eight pitches (seven strikes) and struck out two in a first inning that set an early tone for his evening.

"I felt them getting fired up," Zito said. "I think they wanted to see me do well against (Angels starter Bartolo) Colon, too."

Zito took a two-hit shutout and 1-0 lead into the seventh inning but gave up two runs on a hit batter, a double to Robb Quinlan (that left fielder Eric Byrnes didn't field cleanly) and sharp single past third baseman Eric Chavez.

"That's as good as I've seen Zito throw in a couple years," A's manager Ken Macha said. "He should feel great about his outing."

Added Zito: "We came up with a loss, so I'm going to replay the changeup to Quinlan. But overall, I felt good. I can't focus on the loss. You have to focus on the things you want to keep doing the next time out."

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