CHICAGO (AP) -- Rich Harden's been as good -- maybe even better -- than the Chicago Cubs expected when they acquired him in a trade from Oakland six weeks ago.
Harden allowed two hits in seven innings Tuesday night, striking out 10 and bunting in the go-ahead run for his first major league RBI as the surging Cubs beat the Cincinnati Reds 5-0.
Best Of Best
Since the start of the divisional play in 1969, four Cubs hurlers have struck out 10 or more, allowed two or fewer hits and no runs in a start. The last three times have come against Cincinnati, and one of the guys to do it -- Kerry Wood -- closed out Rich Harden's win on Tuesday.
2008 Rich Harden
2006 Rich Hill
2003 Kerry Wood
2001 Kerry Wood
1998 Kerry Wood
1996 Frank Castillo
"I think maybe a new league, seeing new guys and they haven't seen me that much," Harden said after his fourth 10-strikeout game in seven starts for the Cubs."I haven't seen them, also. It's a process," he added. "The more I see them I have to make adjustments and the more they see me they'll be making adjustments. But I definitely think it makes a difference."Harden has made a difference for the Cubs, who already had a strong rotation with Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and Ted Lilly. They thought Harden would give them the extra push toward the playoffs -- if they can keep him healthy."We just got to watch him, keep him fresh and keep him strong," Chicago manager Lou Piniella said. "This kid is a competitor. He pitches with confidence and he's done a real nice job here, obviously."With the victory, the NL Central-leading Cubs (77-48) improved to a season-high 29 games over .500. Chicago has won seven of eight and 17 of its last 21."One thing about our pitching staff for a good while now, they've given us the chance to win games on a continual basis," Piniella said.Harden (3-1) won a duel with Johnny Cueto (8-12), who gave up four hits over seven innings in the fast-paced game.Harden, who picked up his first win at Wrigley Field, didn't walk a batter and allowed singles to Jeff Keppinger in the fourth and Chris Dickerson in the sixth. Dickerson was the lone Red to reach scoring position when he stole second with two outs before Harden fanned Keppinger."That's the first time that we've seen him," Reds manager Dusty Baker said of Harden, who came to the Cubs in a July 8 trade. "The thing about him is he'll throw 88 [mph], 89, 90 and then when he gets to two strikes, he can pump it up to 94 or 96."Carlos Marmol pitched a scoreless eighth and Kerry Wood gave up a two-out single to Keppinger in the ninth while completing the three-hitter.Cueto (8-12) allowed the one run while walking two and striking out six."That's as well as he's thrown the ball since early in the year," Baker said.Geovany Soto had a leadoff triple in the fifth when his long drive to right-center hit off the glove of a diving Corey Patterson.After a walk to Kosuke Fukudome and a strikeout, Harden dropped down a bunt. When third baseman Edwin Encarnacion threw to first for the out, Soto broke for the plate and scored when first baseman Joey Votto made a low throw that bounded away from catcher Paul Bako. Harden got an RBI on the play, while Votto was charged with an error for allowing Fukudome to advance."I was looking behind my shoulder and he was freezing. That's why I went to first. It was a tough play," Encarnacion said.Piniella lauded Soto's "heads-up" baseball on the play, saying it's not the type of daring baserunning often seen by a catcher."I just followed the third baseman down the line and I was pretty far down and whenever he let go of the ball, I thought it was going to be a cruise," Soto said."But I'm not that fast, so I just got to go headfirst into home plate. Luckily I scored."Chicago added four runs in the eighth off relievers Mike Lincoln and Bill Bray. Derrek Lee had an RBI single, Aramis Ramirez a run-scoring double and Fukudome a two-run, bases-loaded single.
Reds RHP Jared Burton, on the 15-day DL with a strained muscle in his back, is scheduled to pitch in a simulated game Wednesday, according to Baker. ... RHP Aaron Harang had his scheduled start pushed back a day from Thursday to Friday after he experienced neck spasms. RHP Josh Fogg will start on Thursday against the Cubs, while Harang will pitch Friday versus Colorado. ... The Cubs are 34-22 against the NL Central.