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03/04/11 7:54 PM ET

Harden passes test with pain-free session

PHOENIX -- The exact date of Rich Harden's return to the mound is currently unknown, but the A's righty took one step closer Friday by throwing pain-free from a distance of 80 feet.

"It went really well," manager Bob Geren said. "It was a 'test it out and see how it feels' kind of day."

Harden has been sidelined since Feb. 15, when he experienced stiffness in the lat area under his pitching arm during a 40-pitch bullpen session. According to Geren, the hurler is scheduled to throw "harder and farther" on Saturday, and will take Sunday off.

From there, Harden will most likely remain on a two-on, one-off schedule as the team determines when he's best suited to pitch off the bump again. At this point, there is no way to determine when he'll make his Cactus League debut, though his chances in the fifth-starter race appear to be thinning as fellow candidates Josh Outman, Brandon McCarthy, Tyson Ross and Bobby Cramer continue to progress.

Braden pleased with command in second outing

PHOENIX -- No matter his growing veteran status, A's lefty Dallas Braden never takes his job for granted.

As a result, Spring Training always represents something of a tryout for him. Imagine the confusion, then, when Braden's given the OK to work on certain facets of his game during contests rather than just focus on making the final cut.

"One thing I really tapped into last year was [Ben] Sheets and his mindset and approach," Braden said. "I don't think I ever thought or I'll ever think I'll have a position locked up, but when your coaches are giving you that vote of confidence to go out and work on things, it's different.

"I don't have [Sheets] to lean on this year, so I'm thinking, now what? It's weird for me to sift through and find out how I need to approach Spring Training."

On Friday, making his second start of the spring against the visiting Rangers, Braden took advantage of his opportunity to work on things and, subsequently, found better command of both sides of the plate with use of a different arm slot.

"I was probably more over the top last time, just because the arm speed wasn't there," Braden said. "I was tight. ... The problem last time out was I was up in the zone. I was up in the zone again today, but trying to command both sides of the plate. I felt totally different. I was pitching from a different arm slot. Today, I felt totally comfortable."

Braden said he reached 91 mph on the radar gun, three miles per hour faster than the average velocity from his last start. Aside from one breaking ball and three changeups, the lefty threw all fastballs in his three-inning stint, which resulted in four runs on five hits with a strikeout.

Two of the runs came courtesy of Taylor Teagarden, who launched a two-run shot to left field off Braden in the top of the second inning. Teagarden has tallied just 16 home runs in his career, four of which have come off Oakland pitchers.

"He's definitely had some success against us, that's for sure," Braden said. "I don't want to throw the guy a strike from here on out."

Overall, Braden insisted he felt "10 times better than the way I felt the other day," when he was forced to throw 32 pitches in a two-run first inning against the Angels.

"My arm's feeling better, I'm bouncing back in between innings better," he said. "Progress is definitely being made."

Bailey on track for spring debut next week

PHOENIX -- Right-hander Andrew Bailey remains on track to make his Cactus League debut next week following a successful 20-pitch bullpen session against live hitters on Friday.

The A's closer, coming off minor elbow surgery, threw all of his pitches and "felt great" while facing teammates Ryan Sweeney, Cliff Pennington, Sean Doolittle and Grant Green -- the last of whom he offered up a free pass.

"He was just scared of me," Green said, smiling.

Bailey's final step before getting into an exhibition game will come Monday, when he's scheduled to throw 20 to 30 pitches in a live bullpen session again. If all goes well, he'll pitch in a game Thursday or Friday.

"I'm feeling good," Bailey said. "I was effectively wild, but that's to be expected around this time of year."

Once in Cactus League play, the A's reliever will likely make an appearance every three days and compile between five and six outings by the end of camp -- plenty, manager Bob Geren said, to have him ready for Opening Day.

Lefty Craig Breslow, whom the A's are also bringing along slowly because of his workload last season, is on the same schedule as Bailey.

Worth noting

Michael Wuertz threw a 30-pitch bullpen session Thursday and "felt great," Geren said. He'll throw a minimum of one more bullpen, possibly two, before facing hitters and making his Cactus League debut. Geren said he feels confident Wuertz will be able to pitch in five or six games and be ready for the regular season. ... David DeJesus made his first appearance in the leadoff spot Friday, and Geren said the A's outfielder is a good candidate for that role this season when Coco Crisp is in need of a day off. Mark Ellis and Cliff Pennington, who also have experience in the No. 1 hole, are also possibilities. ... Several players will endure their first taste of starting consecutive games this spring because of Sunday's split-squad schedule. Most position players, Geren said, will play either Saturday and Sunday or Sunday and Monday. Those who started Friday's game fall under the latter category. ... Relievers Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour combined for two shutout innings in Friday's game. "Both obviously looked very good," Geren said. ... The A's drew a rather large crowd at Phoenix Municipal Stadium on Friday, bringing in 4,448 fans.

Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.