What's the latest on Rich Harden? The last I heard, he'd received a cortisone shot. Also, if the roster the A's have now remains intact through the spring, do you think he'll be one of the two pitchers to start against the Red Sox in the season-opening series in Japan? If so, how can he and the other guy -- I assume it's Joe Blanton -- be ready by March 25 if, as you reported last week, the A's aren't reporting for Spring Training any earlier than several other teams?
-- Vivian S., Scottsdale, Ariz.
Harden is in Phoenix, throwing with new bullpen coach Ron Romanick four times a week, and manager Bob Geren said the reports he's getting have been good. Geren also suggested very strongly -- without actually using the words -- that Harden and Blanton are, indeed, penciled in as the starting pitchers for the games against Boston in Japan. Penciled being the key word, obviously.
And while you're right about the A's not reporting any earlier than several teams, the first pitchers-and-catchers workout is set for Feb. 14, and that's actually a few days earlier than the they typically hold their first workout. Geren said he, pitching coach Curt Young and Romanick have already mapped out plans to have Harden and Blanton -- not necessarily in that order -- ready to go March 25-26 at the Tokyo Dome.
And for those of you who continue to ask me about how to get tickets for the games in Japan, thanks for your persistence. I still don't have any information other that what I gave you several weeks ago. The A's aren't handling the tickets for these games.
I touched on this in the great Crosby debate last week, but I think it bears repeating; I don’t hold players responsible for freak injuries, even if there is nothing more frustrating to me as a fan than a player who can’t seem to stay healthy. Let me rephrase that: There is nothing more frustrating than a player with elite potential who can’t seem to stay healthy. There’s a reason why Harden’s injuries loom larger than Crosby’s; although they both have been out for extended periods of time over the last few seasons, nobody realistically expected Crosby to be a season-changer.
While I would be the first to lose patience with a player who injured himself either in a dangerous off-field activity (yes, bar fights count) or in something out of his usual routine, I believe that Harden--much like Hudson before him--just seems to be plagued with an eternal injury. It’s not a string of unrelated freak injuries (Crosby), but rather prevailing, consuming ailments all seeming to stem from a consistent health problem.
I just can’t seem to raise my hopes this year. Every season we go through the requisite Harden excitement, followed by the hold-your-breath starts, followed by the inevitable game where you let your guard down for one minute and Harden is being pulled in the fourth inning for some innocuous-sounding reason, which basically translates to "His arm/side/back just fell off and he’s done for the year."
How long can we keep pretending that Harden is going to pitch? Forget warm-ups for his trip to Japan; can he navigate a flight of that length injury-free? Will he actually start a game this year? Do we have an over/under on how many innings? Can I afford to be excited, or am I just going to be disappointed? How long will it take before I won’t hold my breath at each pitch? Should there be restrictions on his pitching? Should we only allow him to pitch at home, under the best of climate circumstances?
And speaking of ‘home’, I have to rant about something. It’s bad enough that the A’s are charged with two home games during this trip to Japan, where it seems like Boston is the obvious draw, but not to even have them handle the tickets? Yes, I know there are reasons behind everything. Yes, I know it’s good for baseball, and certainly fun for Japan. I don’t begrudge anyone a chance to see the sport, and I don't deny the possibility of a great bonding experience for a young team. But talk about drawing the short end of the stick in this deal!
The A’s have to cut their Spring Training short, when they have about a million potential players to try out and make decisions on, then they have to put the rest of their oft-injured and mostly fragile veterans (seemingly all with back problems) onto a plane for two ridiculously long flights in a ridiculously short amount of time, and are rewarded by not only losing two home games from the schedule, but have to play in a stadium when I’m guessing that all the locals are Boston fans, in addition to the fans from the actual city of Boston who flew to Japan after buying A’s home tickets from the Red Sox.
It’s like the 9AM playoff games all over again!
Oh yeah, and go A’s!