After days of waffling, the A's announced Tuesday that righty Rich Harden, who missed much of the season with back and elbow injuries and hasn't pitched in a big-league game since giving up six runs over 3 2/3 innings in the regular-season finale in Anaheim on Oct. 1, will make his 2006 postseason debut Friday in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series at Detroit's Comerica Park.
"We've gotta find out what Rich can do," Oakland director of player personnel Billy Owens said before Game 1 of the ALCS at McAfee Coliseum. "Now, he's ready to pitch."
Owens, along with A's director of player development Keith Lieppman and pitching coach Curt Young, was in Phoenix on Monday to watch Harden throw in an instructional league game at the club's Minor League complex.
And while Harden's velocity was in the lower 90s -- he typically works in the mid- to upper-90s -- during a four-inning, 52-pitch outing in which Young said he appeared to tire while giving up a few hits and runs in the fourth, the general consensus was that the mechanical issues that had given the club's decision-makers pause have been addressed to their satisfaction.
"They feel good about how the ball was coming out of his hand," A's manager Ken Macha said. "My concern [all along] was how he threw the ball in Anaheim."
By the time Harden takes the hill in Detroit, 11 days will have passed since that outing.
"He's not going to go all Gaylord Perry and throw 150 pitches," Owens said, "but we're not expecting that."
What the A's are hoping to see are signs that Harden is much closer to being the dominant force he's been when 100 percent healthy than the just-off-rehab hurler who walked six in that outing against the Angels.
If the signs are good, Harden will be available to start again in a potential Game 7 on his regular four days' rest. Had they started him in Game 4, as many expected, his limited workload of late would have ruled him out for the ALCS finale.
Righty Dan Haren, on the other hand, has been healthy all year. So if Harden struggles in Game 3 and Haren, who won Game 3 of Oakland's AL Division Series sweep of the Twins, performs well in Game 4, he will be available for Game 7.
"There was probably some consideration in that," Macha conceded.
Owens said Harden's velocity in Arizona wasn't a concern, citing the decidedly different "atmosphere" in an instructional league game. Young echoed those sentiments.
"It's similar to when Rich threw that simulated game right before his first start [after coming off the disabled list Sept. 20]," Young said after Harden's outing Monday. "You can't simulate the adrenaline that comes with being on a big-league mound in a big-league stadium."
Harden, who was consistently clocked in the low 90s in that simulated game, reached 96 on the stadium radar gun while striking out seven in three innings against the Indians on Sept. 21.
"Velocity is always less of a concern than location and feel," Young said last week. "Rich has a great fastball, but it's that fastball-change combination of his that makes him so tough. When he's where he wants to be with that, and he can work the split and the slider in where he wants, he's fine."
Still adjusting: A's outfielder Mark Kotsay and his best friend on the team, catcher Jason Kendall, said the reality of being in the postseason for the first time hit when the umpires took the field for Game 1 of the ALDS in Minnesota.
During batting practice Tuesday, Kotsay said he didn't expect a similar moment to smack him in the grill before the ALCS, but admitted that he's still "not used to" all the hype that comes with October baseball.
"Right now I'm more excited than I was during BP before the previous series," he said. "I think the media generates that. There's more distractions. But I guess since there's four teams left now instead of eight, you double everything."
And cut everything in half -- as in, being one step from the World Series as opposed to two.
"I've talked to some friends of mine who have been in the World Series, and they told me that it's less of a reality the further you are away from it," Kotsay said. "So obviously, it's more of a reality the closer you get."
Kielty odd man out -- again: Switch-hitting outfielder Bobby Kielty got a lot of playing time against left-handed starters down the stretch while Kotsay, a left-handed hitter, was nursing a sore back. He didn't play in the Division Series against the Twins, though, and despite lefty Nate Robertson starting Game 1 for the Tigers on Tuesday, Kielty again wasn't in the lineup.
Be a part of the ALCS Mailbag
|Who's going to win this series? Who's the best player? Why'd the manager make that move? If game stories and features aren't enough for you and you want more, e-mail MLB.com's Jim Molony at email@example.com. After the game, before it, even while the action is going on. Send in your question (make sure the subject line contains ALCS Mailbag), and Molony will answer selected queries in a regular postgame mailbag right here on MLB.com.|
Macha said it was his "toughest decision" of the day, but the quality defense provided by Kotsay and left fielder Jay Payton in the ALDS essentially left Kielty, a solid but not standout defender, as the odd man out.
Kielty batted .325 in 117 at-bats against southpaws this season. Kotsay hit .265 in the same number of at-bats.
"Do you go with defense? It kind of paid dividends in Minnesota; that came into play there," Macha explained. "The really tough part is [Kielty has been] a big part of why we're here, and he's gotten some big hits."
Kielty declined comment, but Payton said Kielty's attitude has been exemplary all season.
"He's been awesome," Payton said. "The guy can play the game, and he probably knows he can play every day, and he probably gets upset at times. We all do. But you'd never know it by the way he acts. He's been the same guy all year, and for a large portion of the year, he was coming up with large hits."
Added Macha of Kielty: "He hasn't said anything. ... He can be off a week or 10 days and still come in and do some things. I'm hoping he maintains his positive attitude."
Dribblers: Kotsay said it wasn't until Tuesday that he noticed the "best part" of being in the playoffs: the media isn't allowed in the clubhouse before the game. During the regular season, the clubhouse is open from 3 1/2 hours before the first pitch to 45 minutes prior to the official start time. ... During his pregame press conference, Macha made a veiled reference to managing partner Lew Wolff's mention of a "World Series parade" at a preseason sponsor's function. Asked about the expectations heaped upon recently embattled Yankees manager Joe Torre, Macha smiled and said, "We have expectations here, too." ... Macha, who spent the last four years of his playing career in Japan, has been selected to manage a team of MLB All-Stars during an exhibition series against Japanese League stars in November. "I got an e-mail [detailing] some of the players who have committed, and it's a pretty good team, so I better not screw it up." There are no Athletics scheduled to make the trip, but Young will serve as Macha's pitching coach, and NLCS Game 1 starter Barry Zito, who won't be eligible to play on the tour if, as expected, he's a free agent at the time, has said he'd like to go as an "ambassador." ... Righty Justin Duchscherer pitched two innings in Games 2 and 3 of the ALDS, but likely won't be asked to do as much on any given day in a seven-game series. "You have to monitor it a little bit more," Macha said.
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.