OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -Rich Harden struggled through two injury-filled seasons, so now just taking the mound has added significance as he tries to stay healthy for a full year.
On Monday night, Harden gets the ball in Oakland's home opener against the Chicago White Sox hoping to build on his stellar season debut last week in Seattle.
The hard-throwing right-hander had a great spring and has shown no effects of the back and elbow problems that limited him to nine starts last season.
``Oh, I'm staying healthy, it's no question,'' Harden said. ``I never really get too caught up in where I'm starting, when I'm starting. I guess it's pretty cool to pitch the opener there. At the same time, I'm just going to go out there and do my job. It's just another game. For every starter, getting that first start over is a big one.''
The 25-year-old Harden struck out seven and allowed only three singles in seven strong innings in the A's 9-0 win at Seattle on Wednesday night - building off his strong spring.
He went 4-0 with a 4.24 ERA in his nine 2006 starts, spending two stints on the disabled list. Harden, who won 10 games in 2005 and 11 in '04, missed more than five weeks with a back strain. On June 5, two days after he returned, he went back on the DL with a strained ligament in his right elbow. He also missed more than two months in 2005.
Harden returned for the AL championship series last October and took a 3-0 loss as the starter in Game 3 against the wild-card Detroit Tigers.
Monday marks the first chance for A's fans to see the defending AL West champions since Oakland's four-game ALCS sweep by the Tigers in Motown.
``To me, opening day is kind of overrated,'' said six-time Gold Glove third baseman Eric Chavez. ``But it's nice for the fans. We want to get into our routine of playing baseball. A lot of players establish that rapport with the fans. You want to play well in front of them. I want to play well wherever we are.''
A few key things have changed about the 2007 team, too. Not only are Harden and shortstop Bobby Crosby finally healthy, ace Barry Zito left as a free agent for a $126 million, seven-year contract across San Francisco Bay with the Giants and slugger Frank Thomas signed with Toronto after leading the A's in home runs and RBIs last year.
Mike Piazza was brought in to replace the Big Hurt as DH, marking the former catcher's first time in the American League after 15 years as a catcher in the NL.
``You always feel you want to get off a good start, make a good impression,'' Piazza said. ``It'll be good to get home after spending all the time at spring training and then the first seven games on the road.''
Piazza batted .283 with 22 home runs and 68 RBIs in 126 games for the San Diego Padres last season after nearly eight years with the Mets, and the A's don't plan to use him behind the plate at all.
Also, former A's bench coach Bob Geren - a longtime friend of general manager Billy Beane - was promoted to manager to replace the fired Ken Macha. The players are pleased with their new skipper so far.
``I'll tell you what, I think the atmosphere that Geren has brought over here is the best I've ever been around,'' first baseman Nick Swisher said. ``One thing Geren's got is a great ability to communicate. It's awesome. He's a player's manager.''
Geren has said he doesn't plan to do much differently considering his club won 93 games a year ago. He will have quite a rooting section for his home debut as a manager.
His parents are flying in to the Bay Area from San Diego.
``Every game's a big deal,'' Geren said. ``It'll be fun for me. It's important for them (parents). They've been everywhere I've been. They've both been retired - they love baseball. It should be exciting. Rich Harden on the mound against the World Champions a couple years ago. It's a chance for our fans to see our team this year. It's more opening day for them than for us.''
AP Sports Writer John Nadel in Anaheim, Calif., contributed to this story.

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