Harden getting acclimated to life in NL
Cubs pitcher takes batting practice, soaks up atmosphere
CHICAGO -- Rich Harden discovered the biggest difference between pitching for the Athletics and for the Cubs on Thursday: He had to take batting practice.
Harden, who has one hit in nine career at-bats in the big leagues, was working on his bunting and running the bases at Wrigley Field during his second day in a Cubs uniform.
"In the American League, we take batting practice a week and a half before [Interleague] games, and that's it," Harden said. "I think we'll ease our way into it. I'm not going to go out there and take huge swings."
He was a center fielder growing up, but that's a long time ago. Harden threw a light bullpen session on Thursday, and he discussed his pregame routine with pitching coach Larry Rothschild, who encouraged the hitting session.
"I talked to him as soon as he got here about running the bases and hitting and bunting," Rothschild said. "In Oakland, even in Spring Training, they wouldn't let him swing. I know during the year, he's gotten to hit. Those guys, when they get here, they like to hit, but you worry about their rib cages and obliques and stuff, so we want to put him through an easy couple weeks of swinging and get used to swinging before he does it."
Harden does realize the pitcher can be a big factor in National League games.
"I was talking about it with [Jason] Marquis," Harden said. "When [the A's] played in St. Louis a couple years ago, he hit a bases-loaded double off me. The only runs I gave up the whole game were by him. In our scouting report, we didn't go over him. It said he was a pitcher, so we were throwing him fastballs, and sure enough, he got a hold of one. I remember that to this day."
Acquired Tuesday from Oakland along with reliever Chad Gaudin for four players, Harden will make his Cubs debut on Saturday in the second game of a three-game series against the Giants. The right-hander already has a win over San Francisco during Interleague Play this season. On June 14, he gave up one hit and walked two while striking out nine over six innings in the Athletics' 4-0 win.
Rothschild has watched video of all of Harden's starts this year to familiarize himself with the newest Cub. Even Thursday's light session (20 pitches) gave the pitching coach enough insight.
"We know the track record, so obviously we'll keep track of what he's doing," Rothschild said.
Gaudin was unavailable Wednesday after the long plane ride from the West Coast. He was an early arrival on Thursday, along with his locker mascot, a wolverine pelt. Jason Kendall nicknamed Gaudin "Wolverine" a few years ago. The animal stays at home.
"I don't want to scare all the [clubhouse kids] who open my bag," Gaudin said.
Harden's new teammates helped him fit in. Shortstop Ryan Theriot loaned a pair of Cubs blue shoes for the pitcher's workout Thursday. And don't think the Cubs players have forgotten Sean Gallagher, one of the players dealt to Oakland. Scott Eyre, who took Gallagher under his wing, and drove with the young pitcher from Florida to Arizona for Spring Training in Eyre's RV, said he'll continue to wear his Sean Gallagher T-shirt.
"I'm going to wear it every day," Eyre said. "I'm going to miss my 'son.'"
Harden was happy to be able to watch a few games before his first start in Chicago.
"It feels good to get out here," he said after his workout. "It's definitely a different atmosphere. I like it so far. It was nice to sit down here for my first game and see what it's all about."
He hasn't talked about the plan for the second half with Rothschild, although Cubs manager Lou Piniella said Harden's first start after the All-Star break will be July 21 at Arizona.
"It'll take a few weeks to get really comfortable," Harden said. "It's a huge change. It's so different from Oakland."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.