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A Hardened Harden Fan

I'm a huge Rich Harden fan. Beyond the fact that he sports the green and gold and is a somewhat smaller guy (height-wise), there's the whole hockey-fan thing which I love even though he's a Leafs fan (gak!) and he's one of the nicest A's in a clubhouse of genuinely nice guys.

All that being said, I'm pretty concerned about Harden coming back in 2006. If he avoids any injury and pitches like we all know he can, I think the A's could suddenly become a favorite heading into the postseason. But that's one monstrous IF. I'd take a rotation of Zito, Harden, Haren and Loaiza over pretty much any rotation out there right now, especially with the Twins without Liriano.

But reading all of the stories on Harden's comeback, this line from this story kind of scared me a bit yesterday.

In discussing his velocity Saturday, when his fastball -- normally in the mid- to upper-90s -- was consistently clocked at 90-92 mph in his final inning of work, Harden sounded confident that the adrenaline of a live-game situation will easily make up the difference.

"I'm like that in the bullpen when I warm up for starts, too; I'll be throwing as hard as I can down there, but I'm only throwing about 90 for whatever reason," he explained. "But then you get on the mound in front of all those people, and something happens. It's hard to explain, because in the first inning, I back off to about 80-percent effort to just smooth everything out, but that first pitch will be 95, 96 all of a sudden."

That's exactly the problem. Harden will not be facing anything close to live batting simulation at the major league level until he's actually thrust into that situation. To me, the chances of him not being 100 percent healthy and not realizing it until he gets into a game situation seems very high. That extra adrenaline can push a guy beyond his physical limitations.

Maybe I'm just nervous about 2007 and Rich's career beyond the immediate future (I'm pretty sure the A's are too)? Then again, if you have the opportunity to grab a World Series title, you have to go for it. The AL West is going to only get better next year with the Angels having properly seasoned their kids this year, the Rangers improving and the Mariners not likely to sit on their hands. So who knows if this could be the A's last shot at a title for a year or two until the next wave of kids make their way through the system? I'd like to think it isn't, but you can't expect the A's to make a run to the postseason like 00-03 again. The other teams in the division have too much money and too many good to great prospects.

This all leaves me very torn about King Richard and his predicament. The one luxury the A's have is if Harden comes out and hurts that elbow again and is gone after two innings, the A's have a Windsor up to eat some of those innings to save the bullpen for the Angels.

Still, it appears as though the A's have been very cautious in approaching the injury. I just don't believe that we should expect much from his upcoming appearance, and if we get more than that it would be a pleasant and very welcome surprise.

I've just watched the guy for too long, which has made me skeptical that he's going to be able to last. Call me a bit hardened to the whole thing.