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Harden out of fifth starter competition … for now

In a disclosure that’s hardly surprising, manager Bob Geren admitted that oft-injured Rich Harden is  probably off the board as far as beginning the season as the fifth starter for the A’s. Harden’s essentially missed a month of spring training since being shut down shortly after camp opened in mid-February. He is back at work now doing long-toss and has made progress, but he has not yet thrown off a mound. While that may happen as early as next week, the likelihood of him getting in a game anytime soon — or soon enough — precludes him from being ready by the start of the season.

   “There isn’t time for that,” said manager Bob Geren. “He hasn’t even been on the mound yet, and we leave for San Francisco in a couple of weeks.”

   Because of his past major-league success — significantly more than any of the other five remaining candidates — Harden still could become the fifth man when he becomes ready. It remains to be seen how long it will take him to catch up, and with Harden there’s always the chance for setbacks,  but it’s likely he will continue in extended spring training after the A’s leave and perhaps require some rehab starts once the Triple-A season starts.

   The A’s might be more distressed about Harden if they didn’t have a wealth of candidates competing for the No. 5 spot. At the moment, there are five being acknowledged: Bobby Cramer and Guillermo Moscoso, who are scheduled to pitch today in Peoria against Seattle, along with Tyson Ross, Josh Outman and Brandon McCarthy.

   Ross and McCarthy appear to be the frontrunners at the moment, having both pitched quite well since the outset of spring games. Outman had a good first start followed by two rough ones (he gave up seven hits and four runs in three innings Friday). Cramer has pitched OK, but has been set back a few days by illness. So it’s a bit of a tossup right now. Geren said Moscoso, who has prior big-league experience with Texas, has pitched his way into the competition, but we’ll see how he performs today.

  “It’s a real nice competition right now,” Geren said. “It’ll definitely come down to the final week.”

   The manager added that those pitchers who lose out for the No. 5 spot may still be options for one or possibly two bullpen spots.

   Medicals: Daric Barton (calf strain) missed again Saturday, but Geren said he is “penciled” for Sunday. Barton is still getting his workouts in unimpeded. He’s just not running. Craig Breslow (hamstring) is still not on a schedule for return. He’s throwing on flat ground and doing conditioning work, but it might be awhile. The A’s aren’t being overly cautious — Geren says he’s just injured.

  Michael Wuertz was scheduled for a simulated session Saturday and if all goes well, he could make his spring debut Tuesday. Joey Devine is also pitching a simulated session today but basically to work on the mechanical issues he’s had in his last two outings. He’s healthy, and will take his next scheduled turn on the mound. Geren said he might insert infielder Aaron Sogard (thumb) into the game today to get some defensive action, but he isn’t ready to bat yet. Cliff Pennington is on the verge of taking his first at-bats in a game against right-handed pitching. He’s very close to being 100 percent.

Here are today’s lineups. Familiar faces galore for the Mariners — Milton Bradley, Jack Cust and Adam Kennedy all in the lineup. The game is being broadcast on KRTB-860 today.

A’s: SS Pennington, CF Sweeney, RF DeJesus, DH Jackson, 2B Ellis, 3B Kouzmanoff, LF Carter, 1B LaRoche, C Recker

Mariners: RF Suzuki, 3B Figgins, LF Bradley, DH Cust, 1B Smoak, CF Gutierrez, 2B Kennedy, SS Wilson, C Bard.

 Sorry for the late post … traffic to Peoria was murder. Greater metro Phoenix is getting like L.A., only with freeways that aren’t as good.

Carl Steward