MESA, Ariz. _ Off-days? There are no off-days in baseball. Spent part of a nice afternoon watching Rich Harden pitch against the Oakland A's top farm club. He looked pretty good over 4 innings, throwing 63 pitches. The fastball had plenty of pop (about 92 mph) and late movement; we were standing behind the backstop at Fitch Park, which gives you a good look at the pitches. Foul balls from one game, though, often land on the adjacent field, where another game is going on at the same time.
Harden struck out former Cub Eric Patterson (one of the guys the Cubs traded to get Harden from the A's last July) to lead things off. He gave up a single to first of two No. 26s who batted that ining before getting a first-pitch flyout. In the second, it was a lineout to center, single, flyout to left and strikeout. In the third, it was flyout, single, caught stealing (Koyie Hill was behind the plate) and another strikeout of Patterson. In the fourth, it was strikeout, flyout, flyout.
Afterward, Harden stopped to chat with some A's minor-leaguers before staying to watch Cubs farmhand and fellow Canadian Vince Perkins pitch. Afterward, he chatted with us and said he wasn't even worried about the velocity.
"The last couple years, I've kind of learned to pace myself a little more," he said. "Velocity's not the most important thing; it's location, change of speeds. Yeah, it's nice to put up that big number (oh, around 100 mph, I think) once in awhile. It'll be there. I'm happy with low-90s in spring training. That's good for me."
Harden and pitching coach Larry Rothschild both said Harden's quirky right shoulder is just fine. Putting a number of starts Harden will make this year is hard to predict, but you've got to believe the Cubs would take 25.
"I don't know," Larry said. "Right now, everything is real positive. It (the shoulder) has held up well. He's had no problems. Again, we've got a lot of innings to go and a lot of games to start. From our side, we have to be aware of what the needs might be, and if they don't happen, that's great."
On other matters, Larry agreed with manager Lou Piniella that Jeff Samardzija was overthrowing during his outing Tuesday, when he gave up 3 hits and 2 runs in one inning. "I think he gave up the first hit and started overthrowing," Larry said. "He got back into some bad habits. There's a lot of positives from him this spring. Unfortunately, the numbers aren't one of them."
Samardzija has a 9.75 ERA and a 2.00 WHIP. It's looking more and more like he'll open in Iowa's rotation, but we'll see what the final week brings. Back to work tomorrow.