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Oakland Athletics designated hitter Jack Cust rounds third base after hitting a two-run homer off Hanshin Tigers starter Shinobu Fukuhara in the first inning of their exhibition baseball game at Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Japan, Sunday, March 23, 2008. (AP Photo/Toru Takahashi)
TOKYO -- It's that time of year when the imagination might start working overtime for an A's fan. Particularly when it comes to Rich Harden and Bobby Crosby.

How many strikeouts might Harden pile up if he takes the mound for 30-plus starts? How dangerous of a hitter can Crosby become if he remains in the starting lineup all year?

As the A's open the regular season early Tuesday (3 a.m. PT) against the Boston Red Sox in the Tokyo Dome, they do so with Harden ready to go in the starting rotation, and Crosby expecting big things from himself at shortstop.

But having them simultaneously healthy in recent years has been a rare occurrence.

"If we can stay healthy (as a team), I know we're going to surprise people," Crosby said. "It's exciting. I'm confident of what I can do this year."

Crosby's 2007 season ended in late July when he was hit by a pitch from the Los Angeles Angels' Justin Speier and broke his left hand.

Harden, who possesses some of the game's nastiest stuff, made just seven appearances (four starts) last season due to a strained right shoulder. It was the second straight season he appeared in less than 10 games.

He spent the offseason following a throwing program designed by A's bullpen coach Ron Romanick, who worked extensively with Harden as he was coming up through the A's farm system.

The two also used spring camp to tinker with Harden's delivery, fixing a minor mechanical flaw that Harden says he developed in compensating for his injuries over the years.


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The right-hander went 1-2 with a 4.76 ERA in four Cactus League starts, but more importantly emerged with his health intact.

"I'm happy with the way it went," Harden said of his spring. "I wanted to build up every start, and up the intensity."

Harden will take the hill in Wednesday's game against Boston, following Joe Blanton in the opener.

"He's progressed to where you hope a starting pitcher would be to this point," A's general manager Billy Beane said. "We're very pleased. He and Ronnie worked all winter together, and whatever plan they had to get him back on the mound to this point seems successful."

Crosby spent his winter months in a batting cage that he had built on his Southern California property, working to reduce the excess movement in his stance before he starts his swing. He is also standing closer to the plate.

It's all geared toward getting him to drive the ball more to the opposite field, and the results during the spring were encouraging. The home run that Crosby lined over the Tokyo Dome's right-center-field wall in an exhibition win over the Yomiuri Giants on Saturday showcased his new approach.

The shortstop hasn't played in as many as 100 games since 2004, when he won American League Rookie of the Year honors. He hit 22 homers that season but hasn't cracked double digits since as a variety of injuries have taken their toll.

Beane believes a productive Crosby has a trickle-down effect through the rest of the A's lineup.

"Bobby, in his past history when he's playing like he can, the team really feeds off him," Beane said. "And the fact that he's also a right-hander in a lineup that's pretty heavily left-handed, also is important. ... If he stays on the field and is able to avoid some of those (injuries) he's had the past couple of years, he has a chance to be an outstanding player."

It doesn't hurt for Beane to imagine.

Same goes for A's fans.

Contact Joe Stiglich at jstiglic@bayareanewsgroup.com.