Rich Harden's return to the Oakland A's has not gone exactly as planned.
Perhaps it has gone as should have been expected, given Harden's past injury history, but certainly not the way the A's envisioned when they inked the righty to a one-year $1.5 million contract this offseason.
Midway into June and Harden has not not thrown a live pitch in a single game, not even a single rehabilitation start. Yet he is newsworthy as Oakland stumbles home after a 1-9 road trip.
The A's lost another starter on the road trip. Brett Anderson left the team after his start against Boston to have his left (throwing) elbow examined. The initial scare that he may need Tommy John surgery and miss the remainder or the season, and all of next season, has subsided.
An MRI by team orthopedist, Dr. Jon Dickinson, and a second opinion by Dr. James Andrews both determined that Anderson will only need rest and six weeks of rehabilitation. The diagnosis and recovery means that Oakland will be without their young starter until at least August.
Oakland also has Brandon McCarthy and Tyson Ross on the disabled list, and presumably, at least a month away from returning. Dallas Braden is out the remainder of the season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn capsule in his throwing shoulder.
And then there is Rich Harden, the forgotten starter that injured himself on reporting day in spring training.
Harden may be the closest to returning to a major league mound out of the A's five injured starters, and perhaps not a moment too soon.
Last Friday Harden threw his first live batting practice session. According to the A's new manager, Bob Melvin, the session went well.
Melvin told MLB.com's Oakland A's beat writer Jane Lee:
"He looked good to me," Melvin said. "I know he had a little setback, but it was good to see him out there feeling good about himself. The Rich Harden that I know is that guy who sneaks the ball by the hitters and it's got that little wrist pop for the last 15 or 20 feet, where the ball explodes. You were certainly seeing that today, with some of the swings the hitters were taking. That was encouraging to see."
With this being Harden's 10th stint on the disabled list in his career, it is likely that the A's will be cautious with Harden's rehabilitation and not rush the right-hander back before they are sure he is 100 percent.
Harden has decreased in productivity since leaving the A's in 2008, when he was a combined 10-2 with a 2.07 ERA and 11.3 K/9 rate for the Oakland A's and Chicago Cubs. In 2009, he went 9-9 with a 4.09 ERA and 10.9 K/9 rate for the Cubs. In 2010 he was 5-5 with a 5.58 ERA and 7.3 K/9 rate.
For his career, Harden is 55-34 with a 3.63 ERA, 858 strikeouts and a career 9.1 K/9 rate.
Should Rich Harden return to the rotation or the bullpen?
The A's had identified a shift in Harden's mechanics since leaving the organization and hoped a reunion with pitching coach Ron Romanick would help him regain the dominance he displayed in 2008.
Any healthy innings Harden is able to provide the A's will be a huge boost to their ailing rotation. If he returns and provides the A's with quality innings, it could allow the A's to handle Anderson's rehabilitation at a more cautious pace, preserving his arm for a late season push if the A's find themselves back in contention.