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For starters, A's duo springs to life

For starters, A's duo springs to life

TEMPE, Ariz. -- It was D-day on Monday for two of the A's top starting pitchers: Rich Harden and Justin Duchscherer. Both were making their first appearances of the spring. Both were coming off injuries that severely curtailed their ability to pitch for much of the 2007 season.

And though it was hardly an artistic success, it was right on the mark.

"They both came out of the game feeling great," A's manager Bob Geren said after the 6-1 loss to the division-rival Angels at Tempe Diablo Stadium. "Obviously, this early in the spring that's the biggest thing. They both physically felt great and I'm very happy with that. Both of them, their touch was tentative. They made some quality pitches, but overall I'm sure their next outings will be better."

Harden had problems with his right shoulder and never threw again after July 7. He didn't have surgery and chose to spend the offseason rehabilitating the injury. Duchscherer struggled with an arthritic right hip condition that led to reconstructive surgery, which ended his 2007 season on July 11.

Monday's action provided a good test, with the Angels rolling out their probable Opening Day starting lineup that included Gary Matthews Jr., Vladimir Guerrero, Garret Anderson and newcomer Torii Hunter, hitting in the two through five slots.

"It was just another little stepping stone," Harden said.

"I had no pain and everything was fine, which is definitely a positive," Duchscherer added. "You hear people say that the last thing that comes is the mental. Now I know I can physically go out and do what I have to do."

With the trade of Dan Haren to Arizona, Harden, tabbed as the focal point of the rotation, is currently slated to open the season against the Red Sox on March 25 in Tokyo Dome. Duchscherer, a starter at heart, is being moved from the bullpen into the rotation's fourth slot behind Joe Blanton and Chad Gaudin, who is recovering himself from hip and foot surgeries this past Dec. 18.

The fact is that three-fifths of the projected A's rotation is coming back from serious injuries and how far each pitcher progresses may be the lynchpin of their success this season.

It's been three seasons of continuous injuries for Harden, who's won just 31 games over the course of parts of five seasons and has yet to tap his vast reservoir of potential.

"I'm trying to move forward by putting all that behind me," Harden said after making the start and allowing two runs on four hits in his three innings. "In order for me to get over it I'd like to stop talking about it. I'm basically ready to focus on this season and what I need to do for the team and I don't want that to be a distraction.

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"There's no reason that I shouldn't be healthy. The last couple of years have been filled with injuries that you can't control. It's just been bad luck. Why should I go out there this year and have stuff happen like that? I'm healthy in my mind and I'm lucky."

Duchscherer had an amazingly successful career as a starter in the A's Minor League system, but in 2004 he rose to the big club when Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson anchored the rotation. Thus he had to take one for the club by going to the bullpen.

This past offseason, with the question of moving into the starting rotation was posed, "I was thrilled," Duchscherer said earlier in camp.

Monday's one inning following Harden's outing was his own "little stepping stone." In Duchscherer's mind, it was just leaping over the hurdle that he could pitch without the infringement of pain.

"The first outing after you get hurt just knowing that you can pitch pain-free is very important," said Duchscherer, who allowed a run on two hits and two walks. "Now the next time I go out there I'm not going to think about that because I know I can. I'll have a little bit better command next time."

Next time Duchscherer expects to be bumped up to three innings. Harden said he felt so much energy on Monday he could've gone seven. The adrenalin, of course, was running on super charge. It was D-day, after all, for two Oakland pitchers who are trying to reclaim their careers from the disabled list dust.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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