OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -Athletics manager Bob Geren is ready to put Rich Harden at the front of his rotation, hopeful the right-hander will be healthy enough to pitch in Oakland's season-opening series against the Boston Red Sox in Tokyo.
Harden and Joe Blanton will likely be the A's starters against the World Series champions in Japan on March 25 and 26.
``If it started right now, it would be Blanton and Harden. There's no need to try to hide that. Those are our guys,'' Geren said Thursday, a day after returning from a trip to Tokyo to help promote the series. ``We'll have two starters in Japan and they'll also be the same two who will open up here.''
Harden has been on a throwing program four days a week in Phoenix and ``doing well,'' Geren said. The right-hander could begin pitching off a mound by the middle of next week.
The 26-year-old Harden went 1-2 with a 2.45 ERA in only 25 2-3 innings in 2007 because of an inflamed right shoulder and didn't pitch after July 7. He threw two simulated games late in the year with the hopes of making two final starts, but ultimately decided it wasn't worth risking further injury.
He was 4-0 in nine games in 2006, spending time on the disabled list with a strained back and then a strained elbow ligament.
Harden and Blanton will be relied upon to lead a young rotation.
Oakland traded ace Dan Haren to the Arizona Diamondbacks last month and also dealt popular outfielder Nick Swisher, leaving the A's in a rebuilding phase that general manager Billy Beane has acknowledged.
There was speculation the A's might try to acquire free agent home run king Barry Bonds, but that was a more realistic notion before the slugger was indicted on perjury and obstruction of justice charges in November.
The A's finished a disappointing 76-86 last year after reaching the AL championship series the previous season, but they did place third in the division on the final day ahead of last-place Texas. Oakland had its streak of winning seasons end at eight, and went 9-17 in September for its worst final month since going 8-20 in 1985.
Last year was the club's first losing season since going 74-88 in 1998.
``I think the perception is not accurate,'' Geren said about rebuilding. ``That's not the perception from the inside, certainly not from myself and the message I'm going to portray to the players. We're trying to win every game. We don't feel like a couple players being traded is going to make as big a difference.''
For now, he will have the challenge of getting his team ready earlier than usual because of the games in Japan. A's pitchers and catchers report to spring training Feb. 13. Geren also plans to use his starters deeper in Cactus League games so they get enough at-bats.
``That will be interesting this year to start the season overseas,'' Geren said. ``The people there treated us excellent. It's going to be a really nice experience for us. Ready to go.''

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