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Harden relying on just two pitches

Harden relying on just two pitches

ANAHEIM -- A's right-hander Rich Harden had some of the visiting Phillies raving about his split-fingered fastball last Thursday night after Harden struck out a career-high 11 over eight innings of two-hit work.

Told as much the following day, A's catcher Rob Bowen laughed.

"That's pretty funny, because he didn't throw a single split all game," said Bowen, who was behind the plate for Harden's longest outing of the season. "Zero."

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Harden played coy when asked about it, smiling and saying, "I might have thrown a couple splits," but Bowen stuck by his story.

"He doesn't throw a split at all anymore," Bowen insisted. "For one thing, a split is harder on your arm than a changeup, so not throwing one is probably going to help keep Rich healthy. And he doesn't need to throw a split. His changeup acts like three different pitches, and one of them has real similar action to a split. It tumbles just like a split.

"Watch next time he pitches."

That would be Tuesday, as Harden tries to stay unbeaten through 12 starts when he takes on the host Angels in the second game of a three-game series.

Bowen wasn't exactly revealing state secrets. Pitchers who throw a splitter have to have a splitter grip when they're taking the signs from the catcher, because if they don't, the hitter knows he doesn't have to look for that particular pitch. A review of the game tape from Thursday, when Harden became the first A's pitcher to start a season 5-0 since Erik Hiljus in 2001, confirmed that Harden didn't take any signs with a split grip.

"He didn't throw a single breaking ball [against the Phillies], either," Bowen said. "That's what's so impressive about the guy. He throws two pitches -- fastball, change -- but he has such great arm action and movement on everything, that's all he needs."

Harden said he used a circle grip on his change, with his thumb and forefinger coming together at their tips on the inside of the ball while the other three fingers rest on the top and outside.

"It's a ridiculous pitch," Bowen said. "He can cut it, fade it, tumble it. And coming out of his hand, it looks exactly like his fastball. Only it's, like, 85 [mph] instead of 98. Good luck with that. I'm just glad I don't have to face him."

Pitching matchup
OAK: RHP Rich Harden (5-0, 2.15 ERA)
In his only start against the Angels this year, Harden gave up three runs on six hits and three walks while striking out nine through six innings of a game that the A's won in 12 innings on June 8. For his career, he's 5-3 with a 3.99 ERA in 13 appearances against the Halos, including 12 starts.

LAA: RHP Ervin Santana (9-3, 3.32 ERA)
Santana struggled with his control in a 5-4 loss to the Nationals last Wednesday, walking five. One walk was intentional, but another came unintended and with the bases loaded. In total, Santana gave up four runs over six innings, but he picked up a no-decision when the Nationals won on a walk-off single in the ninth. He's 1-0 with a 1.39 ERA in two starts against the A's this season, having allowed two earned runs on 11 hits while striking out 12 over 13 innings. A's third baseman Eric Chavez is 8-for-22 (.364) in his career against Santana.

Dribblers ...
Outfielder Ryan Sweeney returned to the lineup on Monday after missing the weekend series against the Giants with a sprained left ankle which he suffered on Thursday against the Phillies, and he batted in the leadoff spot for the first time this season. A's manager Bob Geren said he made the move because he's liked the way Sweeney was swinging the bat in the No. 2 spot in the order, and Mark Ellis, who had been leading off of late, has been "struggling a touch." Ellis went 5-for-29 (.172) on the six-game homestand that ended Sunday. ... Chavez, whose sore right shoulder kept him out of the Giants series, also was back in the lineup -- at designated hitter. Geren said his six-time Gold Glove winner could have played third base, but the manager wanted to see how the shoulder felt after a night at the plate first. ... Lefty Gio Gonzalez, acquired in the Nick Swisher deal with the White Sox over the winter, gave up a run on three hits while striking out seven over six innings to pick up a victory for Triple-A Sacramento on Sunday. Gonzalez, who is 4-6 with a 5.24 ERA, ranks second in the Pacific Coast League with 90 strikeouts in 87 2/3 innings. ... Also for Sacramento on Sunday, outfielder Richie Robnett went 2-for-4 with two doubles and four RBIs. It raised Robnett's batting average to .274 with a .342 on-base percentage in 29 games. ... At Double-A Midland, righty Vince Mazzarro lowered his Texas League-best ERA to 2.18 with 7 2/3 shutout innings Sunday but got a no-decision. Mazzarro is 7-3 on the year. ... At Class A Stockton on Sunday, outfielder Matt Sulentic extended his streak of reaching base to 25 games with a solo home run. It also extended his hitting streak to 11 games. ... On Monday, the A's donated $8,500 to the Ravenswood Little League program of East Palo Alto, replacing the equipment that was stolen this past weekend from their storage facility. The Athletics will replace the 50 baseball gloves, 30 uniforms, pitching machine, megaphone, television, microwave and food supplies that were lost in the theft from Martin Luther King Park. The Ravenswood Little League is made up of more than 60 children, ages 9-12, from East Palo Alto and East Menlo Park.

Tickets
 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• CSN-BA

On radio
• KFRC 106.9 FM/KYCY 1550 AM

Up next
• Wednesday: Athletics (Dana Eveland, 6-5, 3.34) at Angels (Joe Saunders, 11-4, 3.06), 12:35 p.m. PT
• Thursday: Athletics (Justin Duchscherer, 8-5, 1.91) at White Sox (Javier Vazquez, 7-6, 4.49), 5:11 p.m. PT
• Friday: Athletics (Joe Blanton, 4-11, 4.97) at White Sox (Mark Buehrle, 6-6, 3.79), 4:05 p.m. PT

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

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