A's Spring Notes: Harden Looking Strong

Right-hander Rich Harden insists statistics mean nothing in March. But it's tough to ignore how good he's looked in Cactus League play.

Through his first four exhibition starts, Rich Harden racked up 25 strikeouts with just two earned runs and three walks in 13.2 innings.

Harden, who missed 94 games last season with a sprained right elbow ligament, stuck mainly to his fastball and changeup early in the spring. He's now opening up the full arsenal, giving hitters his slider and split-fingered fastball to think about as well.

"It usually takes me a while to get my command," he said. "The last few years I'm learning how to get myself on track (earlier)."

Dan Haren will be the Opening Day starter.
With a healthy and effective Harden, the A's rotation looks pretty formidable even after losing ace Barry Zito to free agency. The rotation is unfolding in such a way that Dan Haren is line to start the April 2 opener at Seattle. Haren threw 90 pitches on Friday, pitching into the sixth inning. He allowed six runs and 11 hits, but felt good with the progress he made with a number of his pitches.

Harden would start the home opener April 9 against the Chicago White Sox.

Other Camp Notes

Nick Swisher has a team-leading four homeruns this spring.
--RF Nick Swisher is growing out his shaggy hair with the intent of cutting it and donating it to a charity that makes wigs for women who have lost their hair to cancer treatment. Swisher began the spring as the A's starting first baseman, but with the back injury to Mark Kotsay, Swisher was moved back into the outfield. He has seen a lot of time lately in centerfield and has looked good in center. Swisher hasn't played much in center in the major leagues, but he was primarily a centerfielder in the minor leagues. He will likely be Milton Bradley's primary centerfield back-up until Kotsay recovers from his back injury.

--SS Bobby Crosby returned to the major league spring field on Wednesday and he went 1-for-3 on March 21 in his first Cactus League action. Crosby had missed all of the spring recovering from a back injury he sustained in August last season. Crosby took Thursday off and then played again on Friday, collecting three hits, including a long homerun to left.

Lou Merloni has recovered from being hit in the head with a pitch.
--INF Lou Merloni made his return to game action after missing seven games because of a concussion from being hit on the head with a pitch. He hit a homer on Tuesday and is batting .333 in 27 at-bats.

--INF Antonio Perez, who hit only .102 last season in limited action, has impressed this spring at the plate and with his active baserunning. Perez is batting .348 with three stolen bases in 46 at-bats this spring. He has seen time at third, short and second and has had reps in the outfield in center and left. Perez is being considered as an emergency outfielder with Mark Kotsay on the shelf and Bobby Kielty still recovering from knee surgery. Perez has only played one inning in the major leagues in the outfield, but he has looked surprisingly good out there this spring.

Erubiel Durazo is hitting .317 through 18 spring games.
--1B Erubiel Durazo, who had a torrid winter ball season, led the A's in runs batted in with nine through 15 Cactus League games. However, he has cooled off recently and has 11 RBIs through 18 games and has only a .317 OBP. Durazo can opt-out of his minor league contract with the A's if Oakland does not add him to the 25-man roster before Opening Day. Dan Johnson, meanwhile, has heated up after a slow start and now has a .415 OBP and a .310 BA. He homered to the opposite field on Wednesday as part of a back to-back to-back homerun effort by the A's.

--OF Bobby Kielty began hitting off a tee last week and he participated in a simulated game on Friday. He is recovering well from left knee surgery and is optimistic he'll be ready for Opening Day.

BY THE NUMBERS: 12 -- The number of pitchers the A's are likely to keep. A main decision will be whether to add a second left-hander (likely Rule 5 pick Jay Marshall or Joe Kennedy) to the bullpen alongside Alan Embree.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I was taking two-hour naps in the middle of the day. Everybody was asking if I could sleep. It was easy. I was sleeping all day." -- Infielder Lou Merloni, on the after-effects of a concussion he suffered after being hit on the head with a pitch.

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