How Rich Harden Can Stay Healthy for the Cubs

Ed LeiserCorrespondent IMay 19, 2009

CHICAGO, IL- JULY 12:  Pitcher Rich Harden #40 of the Chicago Cubs pitches the baseball against the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field on July 12, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)

If you are anything like me, you probably cringe whenever Rich Harden throws a baseball. While I will not pretend to be a pitching coach who knows the nuances of pitching mechanics, his delivery sure seems a bit unconventional.

The power he draws from his legs is exceptional, but his arm seems to lag behind the rest of his body. This possibly causes extra torque or pull on the arm, weakening the shoulder.

Everyone knows that injury problems have plagued Harden his entire career. The 27-year old has never pitched 200 innings in a single season. In fact, the most innings ever recorded by Harden is 189, and that was back in 2004.

Everyone also knows that when Harden is on—and healthy—he can be one of the most dominant pitchers in the game. 

Harden's game is as good as Chris Carpenter, John Lackey, and other injury-plagued pitchers of this era. But when you are hurt as often as Harden is, what good is it to any team?

Harden is in a contract year, and his career numbers (45-22, 3.33 ERA, 1.22 WHIP) would suggest a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract in his future.

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While he may not get a block-buster contract, he can stay healthy for a full season. 

Harden is already at 43 innings pitched this year, on pace for about 196 innings this year. 

But the Cubs will need him most for the stretch-run.  September and October are when a player of Harden's ability can flourish. 

By using Sean Marshall and Randy Wells in the regular rotation, manager Lou Piniella can buy Harden more time in between starts, giving him six days of rest (or seven, depending on off days). 

When using this method last year of giving Harden six days off, Harden posted very good numbers (3-1, 2.47 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 9.5 K/9). 

More importantly, Harden was fresh down the stretch, and the Cubs were able to pencil him in to their playoff rotation, albeit a short playoff appearance for the team.

It's not like the Cubs will be throwing bums out there in Marshall and Wells either.

Wells does not yet have an ERA in 11 innings (two starts) with the Cubs, and Marshall has an ERA barely above four. Either pitcher gives the club a chance to win, which is about all you can expect from a No. 5 starter.

When Harden does start, he should be able to see an increase in his velocity, using his 95-mph fastball as his go-to pitch. He can then throw hitters off with his off-speed pitch. 

When Harden is on his game, he is changing speeds well, and hitters have a hard time adjusting. 

Keeping Harden fresh for the duration will be a key component to the 2009 Cubs. His stuff is electric, and seeing him on the mound in October will give fans hope that something good might happen.

The Cubs' personnel must consider giving him some time, so the team might experience something rich.