New York Yankees first baseman (and former Oakland Athletic)
Jason Giambi was strolling through the bowels of Network
Associates Coliseum late last week when he bumped into A's
pitching coach Rick Peterson. After inquiring about Peterson's
kids, Giambi commented on the new kid in Oakland's rotation,
21-year-old Rich Harden. "I saw him on TV a couple times," Giambi
said. "He looks like the real deal."
Given the devastating fastball Harden displayed in his first
three starts, Giambi may have been understating the righthander's
prospects considerably. The 6'1", 180-pound Harden was 2-0 with a
0.86 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 21 innings. Even after all of last
week's trade deadline deals, including Oakland's acquisition of
slugging outfielder Jose Guillen from the Cincinnati Reds,
Harden's promotion from Triple A Sacramento on July 17 remained
the most significant move among AL contenders. Now the Big Three
rotation of righthander Tim Hudson and lefthanders Mark Mulder
and Barry Zito has become a Fab Four for the postseason run.
What's most remarkable is that Harden is only in his third
professional season. "All of us are excited to see what he might
be like when he really begins to understand pitching," says A's
assistant general manager Paul DePodesta. "His raw stuff is
In 1999, during Harden's last season as a pitcher-outfielder at
Claremont Secondary school in Victoria, B.C., "I went to a
tryout, kind of an all-star game, as a centerfielder," he
recalls. "But when they asked me if I wanted to pitch, I said,
'Sure.'" Even he was surprised when his fastball was clocked at
91 mph. The Seattle Mariners drafted him in the 38th round, but
he chose to attend Central Arizona Community College, where he
struck out 127 batters in 9621/43 innings. In 2000 the A's
drafted him in the 17th round and signed him in May '01. "He
dominated from Day One," says DePodesta.
This past spring, with Harden rocketing through the A's system,
Peterson selected him as one of six pitchers he took to the
American Sports Medicine Institute in Birmingham for a complete
biomechanical analysis. The workup on Harden showed several
slight mechanical flaws. "So we designed a program to help him,"
says Peterson. The regimen consisted of exercises emphasizing the
optimal body positions when throwing.
The program, obviously, was a success. Harden started this season
at Double A Midland (Texas), but after not allowing a baserunner
in his first 13 innings, he moved on to Sacramento. There, he
went 7-2 with a 3.23 ERA, and his fastball regularly topped out
at 99 mph. But in his first two starts with Oakland, Harden
didn't have that heater. Two weeks of limited activity before his
promotion caused a case of dead arm that he is still trying to
shake. Harden has been forced to trust a two-seam fastball that
hovers around 90 mph but has nasty movement. "It's been a good
experience because it forces me to pitch, not just try to throw
the ball by hitters," he says.
The subdued Harden ("He is so ho-hum that sometimes you want to
shake him to make sure he's awake," Oakland catcher Adam Melhuse
says) knows he has landed in a plum spot: As the No. 4 starter,
he won't have to face opposing teams' aces. "Go back about three
years and I was a high school kid," Harden says, marveling at his
rapid rise. "And in a way I still feel the same, like a kid." To
judge by the early evidence, the junior member of baseball's best
staff is growing up fast. --George Dohrmann
COLOR PHOTO: BRAD MANGIN HARD 'N' FAST Harden's darting heater was baffling batters.
"His raw stuff is dominating," says Oakland's DePodesta.