PHOENIX — Dallas Braden found the perfect way to forget about baseball during the offseason.

Take a trip with another pitcher.

The A's left-hander spent three weeks backpacking through Ireland and Amsterdam with San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson, whom he befriended while the two played winter ball together in Puerto Rico following the 2006 season.

Braden was ready to clear his mind after a 2007 campaign in which he lost eight straight decisions and shuttled back and forth between Oakland and Triple-A Sacramento.

The topic of baseball hardly came up during the pitchers' trek, and that suited Braden just fine.

"That's exactly it. You're not with an uncle or cousin who wants to know what's going to happen next season," Braden said. "I know what he goes through, he knows what I go through."

Braden and Wilson started off in Dublin, navigated their way around the southern tip of Ireland and visited the Cliffs of Moher, a scenic tourist spot along the country's west coast.

The trip wasn't without its comic moments. While trying to find the Irish National Heritage Museum in County Wexford, the pitchers took a wrong turn.

"We took about a 12- to 15-mile detour for a trip that literally should have taken 10 minutes — with 45-pound backpacks on," Braden said. "I definitely blamed Wilson. I'm the one who said, 'Look, that's the castle we want to get to.' He's the one that said, 'No, let's take this trail.'"

Despite getting lost, Braden thinks he found a good traveling partner in Wilson.


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"I think it might be Thailand in'08."

HARDEN SHARP: Judging from hitters' reactions, right-hander Rich Harden had pretty good stuff on Friday, the first day hitters faced pitchers in live batting practice.

Bobby Crosby, Mark Ellis, Jack Hannahan and Dan Johnson rotated in against Harden, who threw 30 pitches broken down into two "innings," with warm-ups in between.

Johnson managed to line a hanging changeup into left-center. Then on the next pitch, Harden's last, Johnson flailed and missed at a fastball that looked to be in the mid-to-high 90s.

"Can I name that one?" Johnson asked Harden. '"The Eliminator.'"

Harden, who threw predominantly fastballs and changeups, is scheduled to pitch in an intrasquad game Wednesday and appear in his first exhibition game March 3 against the Angels.

SHORT HOPS: Third baseman Eric Chavez, coming off three surgeries to his shoulders and back, is being held out of full team workouts early in camp as a precaution. But he took batting practice Friday off Huston Street and fielded 25 grounders at third off the bat of manager Bob Geren. "He looked agile, kind of restriction-free," Geren said. ... Opening-day starter Joe Blanton will pitch a two-inning simulated game today. He's set to start Thursday's Cactus League opener against Milwaukee. ... One of the funnier gags of camp so far: A skeleton dressed in a green shirt was placed on the scale just outside the A's clubhouse, with a "Jerry Blevins" name tag above it. Blevins, of course, is Oakland's 6-foot-6, rail-thin lefty reliever. Best of all, the real-life Blevins plopped down next to the skeleton to eat his lunch. Fellow pitcher Justin Duchscherer was taking credit for the idea afterward. ... A's public relations director Jim Young is leaving the A's next week to take a job as Stanford's Senior Associate Athletic Director/Media Relations. The club has yet to hire a replacement.