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Notes: Harden fine-tunes in quiet

Notes: Harden fine-tunes in intrasquad quiet

PHOENIX -- Rich Harden made his final Arizona appearance Sunday, though he pitched far from the spotlight of Phoenix Municipal Stadium.

In part to avoid over-familiarity with the Mariners, whom he'll face in the season's opening series, and in part to give fifth-starter long-shot candidate Jason Windsor a good last look in front of the big-league staff, Harden pitched in an intrasquad game at the A's Minor League complex.

But even on the back fields at Papago Park, Harden was pitching in midseason form. He was on the mound for six shutout innings, giving up only two hits while striking out four, throwing 95 pitches, 54 of which were strikes.

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"I'm getting a good feel my last couple of starts here," Harden said. "There are things I need to work on, but the way I finished out felt good."

Among the things to work on is cutting down on the five free passes Harden issued in his first four innings of work.

"Walks always bother me, but I finished with a good feeling," Harden said.

The results he finished with matched his good feeling, as he allowed only one baserunner in his final two innings, striking out two and walking none while throwing 17 of his final 21 pitches for strikes.

"The last one or two innings I put things together and started hitting more spots," Harden said. "I was letting the ball go a little more. It took some time to get that feel."

After his final tuneup in Vegas, Harden slides in as the A's No. 3 starter, facing the Mariners to close the three-game set in Seattle then taking the mound for the home opener April 9 against the White Sox.

"I want to build on today and take the feeling I had in the last two innings into my next start," Harden said.

Up for grabs: With Harden throwing on the back fields at Papago, Windsor had the opportunity to make a strong statement in the competition for the fifth-starter spot. No one has a firm grip on the role, and Windsor's four-run, five-inning outing didn't show the grasp he was hoping for.

"It was a little below average," Windsor said of his outing. "Anytime you get a big-league start, it's an opportunity to showcase what you have. I did what I did, and now they got to make decisions."

Manager Bob Geren seemed to think better of Windsor's outing than Windsor did, though "pretty good control" and "decent job with his offspeed pitches" were not quite the superlatives he'd like to be throwing at his fifth starter.

"I wouldn't say frustrating," Geren said in describing the search for the fifth starter. "Frustrating's a bad word. But I would like to have decided by now."

Windsor can take a level of satisfaction of forcing the A's hands this far, showing enough to remain in consideration into the final week of Spring Training.

"Coming in I understood that there were three or four guys going out competing for the fifth spot," Windsor said. "I felt that if I pitched the way I know how to pitch there's no reason I wouldn't be here."

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He felt even better about his pitching after a late season callup in 2006. He didn't distinguish himself with that four-game, three-start stint, going 0-1 with a 6.59 ERA in 13 2/3 innings. But he survived being thrown into the fire, and he learned something about his makeup.

"It taught me that I have the stuff to get guys out at this level," Windsor said. "I have a lot more confidence than I did last year at this level. I didn't want to fail when I came up last year, and I was focused on not failing instead of just going after guys. This year I'm going to challenge guys and make them hit what I throw."

Roster reductions: The A's trimmed their roster by five Sunday. The club optioned left-handed pitcher Ron Flores (7.71 ERA in 9 1/3 innings of relief) and catcher Jeremy Brown (4-for-12 with a homer and two RBIs in 11 games) to Triple-A Sacramento and reassigned outfielder Hiram Bocachica (4-for-31) and infielder Daric Barton (11-for-25 with a homer and five RBIs) to Minor League camp.

Barton, a key component in the Mark Mulder trade with St. Louis, had an excellent spring, and wasted no time making a strong impression, hitting .440 over 21 games.

"I think he looked really good," Geren said. "The reason we sent him out is so he can get some more at-bats before his season starts. He's going to be an outstanding Major League hitter some day, not far away."

The club also released outfielder Ricky Ledee, a nine-year big-league veteran with seven different teams on his resume. Ledee finished the spring strong, hitting .364 (4-for-11), but missed time to injury early in camp.

Long shot shortening: Rule 5 draft pick Jay Marshall remains a serious candidate to make the A's bullpen. Geren indicated the club could get away from filling a spot with a designated long man like Brad Halsey by using the left-handed Marshall in conjunction with righties Jay Witasick and Chad Gaudin to fill the role of long man by committee.

As a Rule 5 pick, Marshall needs to remain on the A's 25-man roster throughout the season or be offered back to the White Sox. Halsey, who pitched 4 1/3 innings and let up five runs on eight hits Sunday, still has an option, and could start the season in Sacramento as he seeks to improve on his 0-2 spring and his 7.94 ERA in six appearances, three of which were starts.

On deck: The A's host the Rockies Monday at 1 p.m. PT. Gaudin will make the start against Colorado rookie Jason Hirsh.

Joe Blanton will pitch in a Minor League game Monday, giving relievers Gaudin, Kiko Calero, and Alan Embree a chance to stretch out in the Cactus League outing.

Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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