Powell's Homerun Swing Paces River Cats

SACRAMENTO -- Fans of the Oakland A's and the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats had multiple reasons to be happy after Thursday night's 5-3 River Cats win over the Omaha Royals. Rich Harden had a successful rehab start for the River Cats, while Dan Meyer and Landon Powell also had strong performances in the win. Paul Muyskens reports from Raley Field.

Oft-injured pitcher Rich Harden made his first rehab start in Sacramento this season and looked good in his strict 50-pitch outing that saw him removed in the middle of an at-bat with a 2-2 count with two outs in the fourth inning. The lead-off batter of the game chopped a double down the right-field line and would eventually come around to score for the lone run allowed in Harden's 3.2 inning outing.

Harden opened the game with 15 straight strikes. He struck-out the final two batters of the first inning swinging on a 93 mph fastball and an 86 mph off-speed pitch, as 16 of his 18 pitches in the first inning went for strikes. Harden then struck out his third straight batter on an 83 mph changeup to start off the second inning as part of a six-pitch inning with just one pitch out of the strike zone.

In the third inning, Harden allowed another chopper down the right-field line to leadoff the inning before retiring the next three batters, including a strikeout of Shane Costa on a seven-pitch at-bat on an 82 MPH swing-and-miss. Harden retired the final five batters of his outing and all four strike-outs he recorded were swinging. He ranged between 82 and 94 MPH on the night with the bulk of his pitches around 89 and 90 MPH and he looked ready to head back to Oakland without needing another rehab start. When talking to the media after the game, Harden appeared to agree that he was ready for the big leagues without needing another rehab start. When asked directly if he was ready to go, he had a big smile on his face but avoided answering the question, simply saying that he felt good and they would talk in Oakland and decide what his next step is.

"I have no idea what his next step is," River Cats skipper Todd Steverson said.

"He threw well, and from what I understand, he left the game healthy."

Lefty Dan Meyer took the hill after the departure of Harden and did his best to follow in Harden's footsteps. Meyer pitched 4.1 innings, allowing just two hits and two runs while walking just one and striking out six. He was sharp from the get-go, retiring the first four batters he faced before allowing his first hit of the game. He allowed his only other hit to the next batter on a ball hit to deep center that Nick Blasi was unable to track down after a valiant effort. That resulted in a triple, as Joe Gaetti came over from right-field to track down the ball. With a little luck, Meyer could have ended up with a scoreless outing, but he regained his form and retired 11 of the final 13 batters, striking out the final two batters in the eighth on a 79 MPH pitch that caught Mike Aviles way in front and then Costa looking on an 81 MPH pitch.

Catcher Landon Powell entered the game batting just .182 on the season, but half of his hits on the season were homeruns. He continued to flex his power after walking in his first at-bat in the second inning. The switch-hitter came up with two outs in the fourth and from the left side of the plate blasted a two-run homer over the bullpens in right-field and onto the grassy hill well over 400 feet from home plate. After flying out to center in his next at-bat, Powell, now hitting from the right-side, blasted a two-out, 0-2 fastball down the left-field line and over the homerun terrace for another 400 plus foot homerun to give the River Cats the lead at 5-4.

Brad Ziegler would come in and close out the game for Sacramento for the second consecutive day. Ziegler has three saves on the year and has yet to allow an earned run in 11.1 innings. The side-armer has allowed only nine hits and a walk, while striking out eight.

"That was a fun game to play in and we were able to get the win there at the end," Powell said after the game.

"Our pitching staff did a good job and we came up with some timely hits."

Powell, who was the A's top pick in the 2004 draft, is less than a year removed from surgery to repair a torn ACL. It was the second ACL tear for the South Carolina alum since being drafted by the A's. Powell, when healthy, is considered one of the top all-around catching prospects in Triple-A for his power at the plate and skills with the glove. He feels that he is starting to get back into top form after a relatively slow start.

"I feel good back there, my body feels good, and my knee's doing good," Powell said.

"I've got to keep working out and keep getting back in shape and everything should be all right."

The River Cats have been cautious with Powell, who is sharing time behind the plate with Justin Knoedler to ease him back into playing everyday.

"He's doing well," Steverson said of Powell.

"He's less than a year off of his knee surgery and he's able to play, so he's ahead of schedule. We're monitoring it, but he's doing ok right now."

Powell's average sits at only .213 even after his big night on Thursday, but he has an eye-opening six homeruns and an impressive 962 OPS despite the low average. Six of his 10 hits on the season have left the park.

"He hasn't been hitting quite the way he wants to as far as average, but when you can put out some power numbers behind it kind of cures your wounds a little bit," Steverson said.

"That's maximizing your at-bats right there. He's getting the pitches he likes from both sides and he's hitting them, so it's good to see."

Powell, despite his recent display of power at the plate, is a bit disappointed in his swing.

"I've been getting lucky and hitting the balls hard in the air and this is a good league to do that as the ball carries a little bit," Powell said.

Despite the struggles with his swing, he remains in good spirits about his season so far and has high hopes for what is to come. After being told of his six homeruns out of only 10 hits, he laughed.

"You know what I'd love to be in for? I hope I get 100 hits this season. If I get 100 hits, I get 60 homers. Would that work out? I'd take that."

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