05/04/10 2:21 AM ET
Harden feels like old self in dominant start
Righty flirts with no-no over seven brilliant innings in victory
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
Harden took a no-hitter into the sixth before a one-out double by Rajai Davis ended that dream. Harden also allowed a seventh-inning single to Eric Chavez, but that was it. Harden struck out nine and, despite leading the league in walks coming into game, did not issue a single base on balls. He entered the game 1-1 with a 4.56 ERA, but lowered that to 3.52 with Monday's effort."I felt like my old self," Harden said. "I just cleared my head and made my pitches. I've been thinking too much about mechanics. I didn't want to take that out there, I just wanted to go out there and throw it. It's been tough, but mentally this was just a different approach. I'm at my best when I don't think about it, but just let it go." This was only the ninth time in 133 Major League starts that Harden did not walk a batter. He is 8-0 with a 0.71 ERA in those nine starts. "That's what he has to do," Washington said. "Rich has good stuff, but he has to throw strikes. Especially against this team, if you don't throw strikes they're going to hurt you. But he did a great job. He threw strikes and pounded the strike zone. His mindset should be to throw the ball over the plate." The A's have a reputation for being patient at the plate and working pitchers hard, but Harden knows that as well as anybody. The Athletics were his original franchise, and he pitched for them from 2003-08 before being traded to the Cubs. His 2.98 career ERA at the Oakland Coliseum coming into the game was the seventh best all-time for all pitchers with at least 20 starts there. "It was nice to get back here," Harden said. "I was looking forward to pitching here. It's a familiar setting. Everything felt good. I know those guys and I know they take pitchers deep in counts and work walks. I just wanted to be aggressive and make them swing the bat instead of putting guys on base." The Athletics, hit by some injuries, ran a lineup out there that was missing a few starters -- including catcher Kurt Suzuki, second baseman Mark Ellis and outfielders Travis Buck and Coco Crisp. But Washington said that didn't matter.
"Tonight, the way he threw the ball, if it were against any other team, he would get the same results," he said.Harden was overpowering through six but needed some big-time defensive help in the seventh. He got it from two unlikely sources: right fielder Vladimir Guerrero and second baseman Ian Kinsler. Guerrero, with one out, made a terrific running catch in right-center to run down Kouzmanoff's deep drive, stretching at the last moment to make the grab. "He made a great play," Washington said. "He's a baseball player." Chavez then singled with two outs. Adam Rosales followed with a sharp grounder toward the right-side hole but Kinsler, still trying to find his defensive rhythm after missing six weeks with a sprained ankle, made a terrific sprawling stop to end the inning. "The defense was great behind me tonight," Harden said. It helps when the starting pitcher is at his best after struggling to find himself for the first month of the season. "Rich is a proven veteran," Young said. "He's going to be fine. He knows exactly what to do and what adjustments to make. We have a lot of faith and a lot of trust in him. We knew it was a matter of time before he got locked in and found his rhythm."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.