After signing a one-year contract for $1.5 million to rejoin the team that originally drafted him, A's fans have wondered when they would see Rich Harden climb the mound and make his first pitch back in green and gold.
An injury on the first day of spring training put his return in jeopardy. What was originally thought to be just a minor setback turned into an injury that caused him to miss the entire first half of the season.
Finally, though, the wait appears to be over.
The Oakland A's announced today that Rich Harden will make his 2011 season debut on Friday as the starting pitcher against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Harden last pitched for the A's in 2008, finishing the year with the Chicago Cubs after a midseason trade.
In his final season with the A's, he went 5-1 with a 2.34 ERA and 10.8 SO/9 ratio. He finished the season with a 10-2 record and an ERA of 2.07, his best season in the major leagues.
He fell into mediocrity following 2008 though, going 9-9 with a 4.09 ERA in 2009 for the Chicago Cubs and 5-5 with a 5.58 ERA in 2010 for the Texas Rangers. Harden showed flashes of dominance in both his complete seasons away from the Athletics.
What impact will Harden have on the A's second half?
Oakland hoped that by reuniting Harden with pitching coach Ron Romanick, he would be able to regain his dominant form he displayed during his first stint with the franchise from 2003-2008.
In two rehab starts for the Athletics Triple-A affiliate, Sacramento River Cats, Harden had a 3.52 ERA in 7.2 innings. He struck out 12 while only walking three.
The A's have received quality pitching from Graham Godfrey and Guillermo Moscoso as fill-in starters for the A's other injured starters: Brett Anderson, Brandon McCarthy, Dallas Braden, Tyson Ross and Brett Anderson.
The return of Harden is a welcome addition though. Despite his injury history, his track record when healthy gives the A's a better chance to win while they wait on the rest of their rotation to heal.
Harden's 2010 Texas Rangers teammate Brandon McCarthy could return to the A's as soon as Sunday as well, further strengthening the rotation depth.
While A's fans may be skeptical of Harden's ability to stay healthy and add any value to their attempt to jump back into the playoff race, Harden is optimistic that he will be around to contribute.
Prior to Tuesday's game, Harden told the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser:
"I hope to make up for missing the first half. ...It's a little strange, but it's like Opening Day for me."