PHOENIX -- Working on a pitch count in his previous outing, A's righty Rich Harden was lifted after striking out nine on 68 pitches over 3 2/3 innings.

"He struck too many guys out," manager Bob Geren said Tuesday before Oakland's morning workout at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.

Making his fifth Cactus League appearance, Harden still got plenty of punchouts Tuesday against the visiting White Sox, but, in general, he was a bit more economical with his pitches, and the result was his longest -- albeit least dominant -- outing of the spring.

After giving up a double to leadoff man Pablo Ozuna and an RBI single to former A's outfielder Jermaine Dye in the first inning, Harden retired seven in a row, including four on strikeouts, before another single by Dye in the fourth. Harden gave up another single and a walk in the inning, but a double-play ball helped him escape the jam.

In all, he threw about 85 pitches while giving up that one run on five hits and two walks over five innings. His seven strikeouts pushed his spring total to 25 -- against three walks -- in 13 2/3 innings.

Harden said he went into the start hoping to force early contact in an effort to get deeper into the game, but his fastball and changeup location wasn't sharp.

"It's something I wanted to do," Harden said. "I had some command issues, but I was happy with the way I finished up."

He didn't throw any splitters. "It's not something I need to work on every day," he said. But Harden threw more sliders than in any other outing this spring and was pleased with the pitch.

"I was kind of fighting it today," Harden said. "I felt great up to today, but I got to work through some jams, so that was good. Your command isn't going to be there for you every day during the season, so sometimes you just have to kind of battle."

With a handful of national writers in attendance, there was a much bigger crowd of reporters in the clubhouse to hear Harden's thoughts on his outing, and he's heard many of the questions they asked many times already this spring.

Almost unfailingly polite, however, Harden answered the health queries with patience and a smile.

"I feel great," he said. "I can't stress that enough."

Spring Training
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Drag days: Nobody doubts Jason Kendall's love for baseball. He's endeared himself to A's teammates and fans alike with his hard-nosed, no-nonsense style.

But even Kendall, about to start his 12th year in the big leagues and third with the A's, gets a little sick of it all during the final week to 10 days of Spring Training.

"When camp opens and you're doing all the drills and bullpen [sessions] and stuff, you can't wait for the [Cactus League] games to start, so you get a little boost when they do," the catcher explained. "Now, though, you've been playing games for three weeks, and the real games are still a couple weeks away. It's harder to get your adrenaline going."

Harder, but not impossible.

"If you squat back there with a guy like Harden on the mound and aren't into it," he said, "you're gonna get hurt."

Kendall, hitless in his past 17 at-bats, was removed from Tuesday's game when Harden's outing ended, and he won't play Wednesday night against the Royals.

Game notes: Starting third baseman Lou Merloni's three-run homer in the second inning was only the second A's homer at Phoenix Muni all spring. ... Switch-hitting Nick Swisher, batting left-handed, walked, singled to left and singled to right in three plate appearances. Swisher had a total of two hits in his previous five games. ... Infielder Marco Scutaro broke out of a nine-game slump (3-for-18) with two hits Tuesday. ... Sidearm lefty reliever Jay Marshall, facing the team that left him unprotected in December's Rule 5 Draft, threw a shutout sixth, but he needed help from center fielder Hiram Bocachica, who made a long run and a nice catch at the wall to rob Luis Terrero with two on and two outs. ... Infielder Donnie Murphy, who entered the game batting .529 (9-for-17) over his previous eight games, stroked an RBI double in the sixth and made a sensational diving catch to end the eighth after running into foul ground near the bullpen from second base.

Dribblers: Outfielder Bobby Kielty took batting practice on the main field in the morning and pumped several balls over the left-field fence. The only running Kielty has done since his March 2 knee surgery has come on a treadmill, and once he's cleared to play in games, he primarily will play in Minor League games to maximize his at-bats. "How much time until Opening Day -- two weeks? It'll be close," Geren said of Kielty's availability. ... Shortstop Bobby Crosby played seven innings on defense in a Minor League game Tuesday and is on track to make his Cactus League debut with between three and five innings of defense Wednesday night against the host Royals in Surprise. ... Geren said the club's overall health is very good, a point underscored by the length of his daily meeting with head athletic trainer Larry Davis. "Shortest of the spring," Geren said. "That's good, right?" ... Righty Justin Duchscherer (triceps tendinitis) didn't throw Tuesday and is expected to pitch in a Minor League game Wednesday. He has yet to appear in a Cactus League game.

Up next: A's righty Joe Blanton will face righty Brian Bannister of the Royals in a 6:05 p.m. PT start Wednesday in Surprise.