Rich Harden is trying to work his way back from an injury-plagued 2006 season. If his first start of the season was any indication, he is well on his way.
One of the biggest keys to the Athletics’ success this season may be the health of Harden (1-0, 0.00 ERA), who was limited to nine regular-season starts in 2006 due to a strained back and a sprained elbow. He returned late in the season and lost Game 3 of the AL championship series to Detroit.
The right-hander didn’t have any problems Wednesday at Seattle in his first start of 2007, working seven dominant innings while allowing three hits with two walks and seven strikeouts in a 9-0 victory.
“Tremendous performance,” A’s manager Bob Geren said. “He looks great. I’m very thrilled.”
Oakland (3-4) improved to 11-0 in Harden’s last 11 regular-season starts, a streak that dates to a 2-1 loss to Minnesota on Aug. 14, 2005. The right-hander is 6-0 with a 3.30 ERA during that span.
Harden will try to continue his team’s excellent run of starting pitching. Oakland starters have a 1.91 ERA through the first seven games.
“It’s always exciting to come back home. I got the home opener and the chance to pitch in front of the fans again,” Harden said. “It’s been a long time.”
Harden is 3-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career starts against the White Sox. He has walked five and struck out 25 over 31 innings in those games.
Designated hitter Mike Piazza was 3-for-4 Sunday and finished the series 10-for-16 with one RBI—a go-ahead homer in the ninth inning Thursday night— after going 1-for-12 in Oakland’s season-opening series against Seattle.
Shortstop Bobby Crosby returned to the starting lineup Sunday. He left Friday’s game with mid-back spasms and was scratched from the lineup Saturday, when he made an appearance as a pinch-runner.
As well as Harden pitched in his season debut, the White Sox (2-3) will be happy to see anyone but two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana, who was stellar in Minnesota’s 3-1 victory Sunday.
Jose Uribe accounted for Chicago’s only run with his second homer in as many days off reliever Jesse Crain in the eighth inning.
White Sox starters haven’t enjoyed nearly the same success as Oakland’s. Chicago’s starting staff is 1-2 with a 6.99 ERA.
Jose Contreras (0-1, 63.00) hopes to rebound from one of the worst starts of his career after he was reached for eight runs and seven hits before leaving with no outs in the second inning April 2 against Cleveland. In his last three starts dating to last season, the right-hander has surrendered 17 earned runs in 8 2-3 innings.
Contreras has never fared well against the A’s, going 1-3 with a 7.61 ERA in five starts.
These teams split six games in 2006, each winning three times at home. The A’s are 14-4 at home against the White Sox since the start of the 2003 season.