Cubs’ Harden sharp in Cactus League debut
PEORIA, Ariz. (AP)—Rich Harden would prefer questions about his health to disappear.
But because of arm problems the past few seasons, the issue won’t go away for the Chicago Cubs right-hander.
“I totally understand, that’s just the way it is,” said Harden after pitching two shutout innings in his first Cactus League appearance during the Cubs’ 8-1 win over the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday. “I’m always going to get those questions, even if I’m healthy four years in a row. I just accept it.”
Harden, who was acquired from Oakland in a midseason trade last year, served one stint on the disabled list in 2008 after three straight injury-plagued seasons with the A’s.
He went 5-1 with a 1.77 ERA with Chicago and was unbeaten in his past 10 starts.
The 27-year-old underwent a rigorous offseason workout program designed to build up the strength in his pitching shoulder.
The Cubs, however, have taken a cautious approach with Harden, who is slated to be fourth in Chicago’s rotation behind Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and Ted Lilly. He made two appearances in exhibition games and threw two rounds of batting practice before being cleared to pitch in a game.
Harden went two innings against Seattle and allowed two hits with one strikeout. The first batter he faced, Franklin Gutierrez, lined a ball up the middle but Harden quickly snared it.
Griffey, playing in consecutive games for the first time this spring, went hitless in three at-bats for the Mariners. Before the game Griffey chatted with Lou Piniella, his manager for seven seasons when both were in Seattle.
“It’s nice to get the first one out of the way,” Harden said. “I feel normal now, like I’m part of the team. I was a little off but I was throwing strikes. I felt great, felt strong.”
Dempster, a candidate to be the opening day starter, followed Harden and pitched three shutout innings with two strikeouts to get his first win of the spring. Dempster pitched a day earlier than planned because the Cubs have a day off on Wednesday.
Four Chicago pitchers combined to hold Seattle (6-3-1) to six hits while leading the Cubs (7-8) to their second straight win following a six-game losing streak.
“They threw the ball well and for the most part got ahead and were able to execute second and third pitches,” Chicago pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. “(Harden) threw the ball well. The changeup wasn’t as good as I’ve seen it but that’s to be expected. The ball came out of his hand real well and it’s a good step for him.”
The Mariners continued to have problems with their pitching.
Starter Garrett Olson gave up two runs on three hits but more troubling were the performances of closer candidates Miguel Batista and Mark Lowe. Batista allowed three runs and three hits in one inning while Lowe gave up four doubles and three runs in two-thirds of an inning.
“It’s just command right now,” Seattle manager Don Wakamatsu said. “Again it’s early. As we get further and further into it, that early statement’s going to be a little bit more of a concern. We’ll give them the benefit of the doubt right now.”
Doug Deeds, a minor league outfielder trying to hook on with the Cubs, went 4-for-5 with two doubles and two RBIs. … Betancourt doubled and tripled for Seattle, raising his spring average to .444. … Despite their big day at the plate, the Cubs went homerless and have not had a home run in seven of their past eight games. … The Mariners went into the game leading the AL in scoring at 7.56 runs per game but managed one against Chicago, that coming on 1B Russell Branyan’s RBI double in the seventh.