Coming into Monday night's game against the Rangers, the A's expected to see a wild Rich Harden with subpar velocity. Harden erased all preconceived notions, though, and held his former team scoreless over seven strong innings during a 4-2 Rangers win.
"Today was quite the opposite," said Oakland manager Bob Geren. "His velocity was up and his command was great."
Until Monday's gem, Harden had been struggling with his location all season. Despite entering the game with an American League-high 23 walks, Harden's command was impeccable on Monday.
The A's planned on being patient, but the balls just didn't come. Strikes, rather, dominated the box score in the early going, as Harden recorded six of his nine strikeouts in the first three frames.
"We were trying to be patient, and he was pumping in a lot of first-pitch strikes," said Oakland first baseman Daric Barton. "After that, he was mixing it up with his offspeed stuff. He pitched a good game; you got to tip your hat to him."
Sure, Harden's changeup was effective. And sure, his fastball had some extra oomph on it. But it was Harden's slider -- a pitch he hadn't used much this season -- that really doomed the A's.
"He got some good fastballs up and in," said Oakland second baseman Adam Rosales, "but his slider was the pitch that was working."
Geren also said he was surprised with the number of sliders Harden threw.
Harden has shown flashes of brilliance throughout his career, but Geren was convinced he had just seen one of Harden's most proficient starts.
Harden carried a no-hit bid into the sixth inning before Rajai Davis drilled a one-out double down the left-field line. Davis was the only Oakland runner to advance past first base against Harden.
During Harden's seven-plus years with the A's, his talent and his stuff were never doubted. But injuries marred his career before the A's shipped him to the Cubs during the 2008 season. On Monday, Harden showed how dominant he can be -- when healthy.
"If you look back at Rich and see when he's on, he's basically unhittable," Barton said. "His fastball was 92-94, his offspeed stuff was good -- he kept it down in the zone -- and kept hitters off balance. He looked good out there."
Harden allowed just two hits on the evening while throwing 108 pitches -- 77 for strikes.
"We tried to get his pitch count up there, but he was throwing a lot of strikes," Barton said.
Harden's counterpart, A's starter Dallas Braden, threw seven-plus innings, but got hit hard by the Rangers. Braden surrendered three runs (all earned) and a career-high 11 hits while striking out three.
"He was way better than I was today," Braden said. "Story told."
Alex Espinoza is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.