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03/25/09 7:08 PM ET

Food poisoning can't deter Harden

Cubs righty feels fine tossing 63 pitches, stays on schedule

MESA, Ariz. -- Rich Harden's stomach is still a little tender after a bout with food poisoning, but there is nothing wrong with his arm.

Harden threw 63 pitches over four innings for the Cubs' Triple-A team in a game at Fitch Park on Wednesday, his first outing since being sidelined after some bad chicken salad five days ago. He threw 42 strikes and struck out four, including former Cubs prospect Eric Patterson, who was among the players traded to Oakland for Harden last July. Patterson fanned twice.

"I thought he threw the ball well," Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild said of the outing. "It came out of his hand the way he wanted."

Catcher Koyie Hill was behind the plate for Harden and had an at-bat every inning to make sure he didn't waste a day off.

Harden will have two more spring starts, including April 4 at new Yankee Stadium, which the Cubs will help open. There should be a few more people watching that game than the 100 or so who caught his outing Wednesday.

"It's going to be big," Harden said of his New York outing. "It'll be a lot closer [to the big leagues] than this."

In the last few days, the right-hander has lost about seven pounds and was having a tough time putting the weight back on.

"It's frustrating, because I was feeling good and strong," he said. "It'll take me about two months to put the weight back on. I felt real good, and I think I'll feel even better five days from now the further I get from this and once I get some strength back."

The key now is building up strength. He needed an IV on Tuesday to help replenish some fluids.

"Now, it's a matter of getting my stomach back to where I can really start eating a lot," Harden said.

OK, what about command of his pitches?

"I'm well ahead of where I normally am at this point in spring as far as how I feel, how strong I am, how I'm throwing the ball, where I'm throwing it with my command."
-- Rich Harden

"I'm really happy with how I felt," he said. "Hey, I'm missing some pitches. I've got another couple starts to work on some things. I'm well ahead of where I normally am at this point in spring as far as how I feel, how strong I am, how I'm throwing the ball, where I'm throwing it with my command."

And that's even after missing time, which is a good sign. Harden is penciled in as the fourth starter and is scheduled to open a three-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers on April 10. Neither he nor Rothschild felt the rotation needed to be tweaked to give Harden more time. He's right on schedule.

"Hopefully, I can talk to you guys at the end of this season here after throwing 32 games," he said. "I'm feeling great. It's the best I've felt in a while."

Last season with the Athletics, Harden was 5-1 with a 2.34 ERA in 13 games. He joined the Cubs on July 8, and went 5-1 with a 1.77 ERA in 12 starts. That April 4 start will mean even more to Harden considering where he was one year ago. On April 3, 2008, he was placed on the disabled list because of a strained right shoulder and wasn't activated until May 11.

He's learned to pitch smarter and not try to overwhelm hitters, which should keep him healthy and able to total 30 starts.

"In the last couple years, I've learned to pace myself a little more," he said. "Velocity isn't the most important thing. It's location and change of speeds. It's nice to be able to put up that big number every once in a while [on the radar gun] and keep it in the back of hitters' minds. It'll be there.

"I'm happy throwing low-90s in Spring Training," he said of his velocity. "That's good for me. Even when I was throwing 94, 99 [mph], I was having a hard time getting it up there in Spring Training."

He's focusing more on mixing his pitches up, changing speeds. The hitters at Fitch Park were fooled by the movement on his pitches. Three of his four strikeouts were swinging.

"When I was younger, I'd go out there and try to throw everything as hard as I could, but you don't accomplish much doing that," Harden said. "You just waste a lot of energy. It's better hitting spots and changing speeds. I think it'll be easier on my arm, too."

After his four innings, Harden watched his Canadian buddy, Vince Perkins, throw for the Cubs' Triple-A team, then headed for a nearly two-hour session with strength coach Tim Buss. It's part of the drill.

"We're prepping for my next start right now," Harden said. "We'll go in there and get some work in and do some shoulder exercises. It'll probably take an hour to an hour and a half after I pitch. Tomorrow, it'll be a lot longer.

"That's the way it is. Every day, I'm getting prepared for my next start. It starts right after the game."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.