A's Harden back to feeling pain-free after injury

PHOENIX (AP) - Rich Harden is pain-free and ready to resume his spring training regimen. As soon as Oakland's training staff gives him the OK, that is.

The Athletics right-hander was shut down last week, expected to miss two weeks of workouts after experiencing stiffness in the lat muscle below his pitching arm when he tried to throw Feb. 15. Harden still hopes to compete for the fifth spot in the A's talented rotation, even if he is a little bit behind as he begins his second stint with the club.

"It's coming along," Harden said Thursday. "I want to get out there, but it's on the trainers. I'm 100 percent pain-free."

Harden hopes he will be able to throw again before the two-week timetable next week. He has been doing strengthening exercises for his throwing arm to help alleviate the problem. He believes his new mechanics and delivery may have contributed to the injury.

"He has had kind of a run of bad luck with little, nagging injuries," starter Dallas Braden said. "Selfishly, I want him back sooner because if I'm going to be part of a rotation where Rich Harden is battling for a fifth spot, with his front-line ability, I think our rotation is in pretty good shape. The team is in pretty good shape. That speaks volumes about our depth."

The A's are certainly going to be careful with a pitcher who has endured so many injuries in recent years. Harden received a $1.5 million, one-year contract in December to rejoin Oakland. He went 5-5 with a 5.58 ERA in 20 appearances and 18 starts for the Texas Rangers last season, when he struggled with injuries and control. After beginning the season as the Rangers' No. 2 starter, he walked 62 batters in 92 innings.

Harden spent two stints on the disabled list in 2010, first from June 12-July 30 with a strained left gluteal muscle and later with right shoulder tendinitis. Texas released him after the regular season.

Harden went 1-2 with a 2.45 ERA in only 25 2-3 innings in 2007 because of an inflamed right shoulder, and didn't pitch after July 7 that year. He threw two simulated games late in the season with the hopes of making two final starts, but ultimately decided it wasn't worth risking further injury.

He was 4-0 in nine games in 2006, spending time on the disabled list with a strained back and then a strained elbow ligament.

Harden understands he has to be a little bit patient - even though he's determined to get going and return to the form he showed in 2008, when he went a combined 10-2 with a 2.07 ERA in 25 starts between Oakland and the Cubs. Chicago acquired him on July 8, 2008, in a trade with the A's.

"You don't want to go out there too early and set yourself back," he said. "At this point you don't need to do that."

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