Ellis, Harden pace A's to first win

Ellis, Harden pace A's to first win

SEATTLE -- While on his way to leading the Cactus League with 29 strikeouts in 17 2/3 innings this spring, Rich Harden admitting to enjoying the feeling of power that comes with watching opponents trudge from the batter's box to the dugout after being unable to put the ball in play.

But Oakland's electric righty, recognizing the toll that so many punchouts can take on pitch counts, and intent on eating as many of the innings that departed ace Barry Zito left behind, vowed to make an effort to get his outs earlier in counts come the regular season.

Harden's performance Wednesday proved that he wasn't just giving lip service with that vow of economy. He still struck out seven during Oakland's 9-0 victory, but he got plenty of quick outs -- two double-play grounders certainly helped -- and issued but two walks while cruising through seven innings of three-hit work on 94 pitches; 64 were strikes.

"The big issue for me is consistency and command," Harden said after helping douse manager Bob Geren with malted beverages in celebration of his first win as a big-league skipper. "Early on, I was getting a lot of early contact, and that helped me get deeper into the game, because in the last couple innings I started to get into some deeper counts."

Mariners second baseman Jose Lopez likened Harden's dominant stuff -- his fastball was clocked as high as 98 mph in his final inning of work -- to that of Seattle righty Felix Hernandez, who held the A's to three hits over eight innings while striking out 12 on Opening Day.

"He threw a lot like Felix the first night; a hard thrower with a lot of good flair working today," Lopez said. "A lot of high fastballs, 98, 99 [mph], and he threw a lot of strikes."

Second baseman Mark Ellis backed Harden by matching his career high with five RBIs, stroking two of Oakland's four doubles to pace a thoroughly balanced 13-hit attack that helped the A's avoid a three-game sweep at Safeco Field.

"It's nice having Rich 'It Don't Get Much Harder' Harden on the mound," said smiling Oakland center fielder Milton Bradley, who went 2-for-5 with a double and two RBIs. "He's throwing 98, 99, and you see some guys up there with no chance."

Rookie outfielder Travis Buck was the only Athletics starter without at least one hit, and by the time the Mariners picked up their first hit of the night with a leadoff single by Ichiro Suzuki in the third inning, Harden (1-0) had been staked to a 5-0 lead.

"When he gets a lead like that, it's pretty much over," Bradley said.

It's not just pretty much over. It is over. Wednesday marked the 33rd time in his career that Harden has gotten at least four runs of support. He's 27-0 in those games.

Mike Piazza started Oakland's pounding of Seattle starter Miguel Batista (0-1) with his first hit of the year, a leadoff single in the second inning, then scored on a balk after being pushed to third by a double from Eric Chavez. After Bobby Crosby was hit by a pitch and Buck walked to load the bases with one out, Ellis unloaded the bags with his first two-bagger before scoring on a single by Bradley.

The rout was on. Bradley doubled in a run in the fourth, and Ellis lashed a two-run double with two out in the fifth that chased Batista. Swisher capped the scoring with a two-out RBI single in the sixth.

"You can't complain when the guys go out and get you nine runs," Harden said.

Five A's had two hits, but Ellis, Oakland's No. 9 hitter, was without a doubt the offensive star.

"That's the kind of involvement we need from everybody," Bradley said. "Mark Ellis isn't in the nine-hole because he can't hit. He's in the nine-hole because we have a great lineup."

As involved as everyone was in the offense, so too were they involved in Geren's carbonated shower. Lured into the clubhouse, he barely made it across the threshold before being ambushed and soaked with suds.

"I'm really excited for Bob," said Ellis, who played for Geren at Triple-A Sacramento. "That was the best part of the night."

Equipment manager Steve Vucinich secured for Geren the lineup card and a game ball, but Geren, whose postgame chat with the press was briefly interrupted by a congratulatory phone call from his teenage son, Bobby, tried to shift the focus away from his milestone.

"I don't feel like it's about me, I honestly don't," he said. "I don't mean to play it down, but it's not like getting your first hit as a player, or your first home run. You did that. When you're the manager, it's we won."

Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.