A's Continue To Trim Roster; Harden Improving

The Oakland A's continued to shape their roster for Opening Day, as they reassigned three non-roster players to minor league camp on Monday. We have the details of those moves and Rich Harden's continued comeback from last season's injuries.

A's Send Three Down To Minor League Camp
The A's continued to trim the number of players they are carrying in major league camp. On Monday, the team sent three non-roster players down to Papago Park: Aaron Cunningham, Anthony Recker and Chris Gissell. Oakland now has 44 players in major league camp. The team can bring 28 players to their opening series in Tokyo.

Recker, Cunningham and Gissell were all in their first big league camps with the A's. Recker appeared in only one game in his first big league camp. He went 1-3. Cunningham, who was acquired in a trade in the off-season, had a strong first camp with Oakland. He went 3-8 with two doubles and two RBIs. Unfortunately, he also broke his wrist on Saturday and will miss at least six weeks. Gissell also was impressive in his first camp with Oakland. The longtime veteran of both the minor leagues and the Japanese Professional League threw five hitless innings. He walked one and struck-out five.

Harden Healthy, Trying To Fine-Tune
Rich Harden is completely healthy, to the point that the right-hander is beginning to get frustrated with non-stop questions about how he feels. He's right on track to start Oakland's second game of the season, in Tokyo.

The real question right now is: How rusty is Harden after missing large parts of the last three seasons? He didn't throw his breaking stuff much in his first start of the spring, and in his second start his secondary stuff wasn't sharp, according to scouts.

Harden said that that is because he's working on refining some mechanical issues in an effort to prevent any further injuries. Bullpen coach Ron Romanick discovered some drills Harden was doing earlier in his career to keep his delivery correctly honed, and they have reinstituted the drills. Harden said it involves his front side but didn't reveal more.

In addition, Harden is working on not going max-effort every pitch. He throws in the upper 90s and is a high intensity guy; he believes that if he backs off a bit, it will save some wear and tear on his arm and might make his stuff that much more effective when he does crank up the effort. He hit 96 mph only once his first time out, and he was at 95 mph a few times his second time out.

Numerous scouts have been at Harden's appearances this spring, and there's speculation that if he proves he's healthy, some contenders will have major interest. The price tag won't be cheap, though; the A's will want good value in return for a pitcher of Harden's ability, despite his injury history.

Several scouts have mentioned that their clubs might want Harden as a potential closer, but Harden -- who was a reliever in college and enjoys the role -- believes that he will be less prone to injury as a starter because of the more regular routine involved.

A's Notes
--1B-DH Mike Sweeney's health hasn't been remotely an issue, and he was among the spring hitting leaders with a .455 average in his first seven games. Because the A's leave for Japan on March 19, there is an unusual provision in his contract: The A's must divulge their plans for him by that date. There's virtually no chance Sweeney won't be on the roster, however, and he even has a good shot at being in the starting lineup on Opening Night.

--1B Daric Barton missed more than a week with a bruised hand, but he said repeatedly that it was not a big deal. Barton did not see a hand specialist, but a local orthopedist checked him out and he returned to the line-up late in the game on Sunday. The rookie said he had a similar injury last June in Sacramento.

--3B Eric Chavez is alternating hitting and running workouts after having had an epidural on Feb. 29. The cortisone injection did exactly that the team had hoped, quieting the inflammation in Chavez's surgically repaired lower back. He has yet to resume fielding grounders, which is when the stiffness hit him before, and he appears unlikely to be able to make the trip to Japan next week.

--RHP Justin Duchscherer felt uncomfortable throwing out of the stretch in his first appearance of the spring. He'd felt the hip pain that ended his season last year when working out of the stretch, so he was a little tentative, he said. His second time out, knowing that he'd been fine in that previous start, Duchscherer was outstanding, allowing one hit in three scoreless innings.

--RHP Joey Devine was sidelined for more than a week with back spasms, but he threw an inning on March 8 and appeared sound. Because he's behind the other relievers, Devine might not be on the roster to open the season. But even if he starts the year as Triple-A Sacramento's closer, he is certainly in Oakland's plans for this season.

--SS Bobby Crosby missed two games with the team's most common spring injury, back spasms, but he insisted that the problem wasn't serious and is the same one he deals with annually for just a few days. He was right and was back in the lineup, where he has shown some good success, lifting his average up to .375. Crosby changed his swing in the offseason, eliminating some movement and some drifting, especially with his head.

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