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Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results

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Well, let’s start with the official news from the A’s website:

For the sixth time in less than four seasons Athletics starting pitcher Rich Harden has landed on the disabled list.

Oakland placed the hard-throwing right-hander on the 15-day DL retroactive to April 3 with a mild subscapularis strain in his right shoulder.

The subscapularis muscle is located underneath the shoulder blade and connects to the front of the upper arm. It works in conjunction with a group of muscles that are used to move the rotator cuff and when injured the subscapularis can cause pain while going through a typical throwing motion.

Harden was scheduled to start Saturday in Cleveland, but after experiencing discomfort in his shoulder during a light toss on Wednesday afternoon, the 26-year-old was forced to cancel his bullpen session and as a result his next outing.

"Harden's not going to be making his next start," Oakland manager Bob Geren said. "He's not going to be ready by that point."

The A's are trying to be as cautious as possible with Harden's latest setback and are taking a wait-and-see approach before setting a throwing plan for his rehabilitation.

If I’m perfectly honest, I have been waiting all season for this news to break, which is all the more surprising that it still affects me. I guess the other shoe gets just a little bit heavier when it’s wearing a 0.82 ERA.

From purely a fan standpoint, I think that the annual (and sometimes bi-annual) announcements of Harden’s inevitable trips to the DL are terrible PR for the A’s organization. Every year, the baseball world is sold the party line that the A’s can only really compete if Harden stays healthy as their ace, and from the limited experience we have of Harden, it’s hard to ignore the value that an elite pitcher adds to a team. There are times when we can almost taste a 20 win season, and as Spring Training rolls over into April, somehow we believe that this could be the year that Harden finally stays on the mound.

Of course, as every A’s fan knows all too well, that hope will soon give way to the shattering reality of the moment when Harden pauses on the mound, shakes an arm; grabs his side, winces just enough, and we can write the script from there. Management will announce that Harden is day-to-day, he will be scratched from a start, then put on the DL, and will be lucky to return at all.

In four years, Harden has not deviated from this pattern. At what point is enough simply enough? At what point would we rather start a season with a durable pitcher who will go 16-9 with a reasonable ERA instead of a potential superstar who will go two or three starts before breaking fans’ hearts, upsetting the team, forcing roster moves, requiring medical care, and taking up both salary and space on the bench?

A’s fans should be thrilled with the way the first 10 games have gone thus far. The A’s certainly have shown more flash and flair (or scrappiness and grit, if you prefer) than I thought possible for April, and it looks like we might have some real, young talent in the starting rotation. But instead of looking towards the future, we have to deal yet again with the bitter disappointment of the albatross of a ‘potential’ ace pitcher that never was and probably never will be.

I don’t have a good solution for Harden. I would certainly like to think that he’s as frustrated with his injuries as we are, but aside from wishing people would stop talking about him being hurt (yeah, good luck with that), he’s been fairly mum about the whole thing.

Frankly, it’s the Harden experience that really causes me to question some things about how the A’s handle injury reports; I simply can’t imagine that other fans have such a hard time getting basic information about their team as we do. I’m not asking them to compromise potential trade information (who else but maybe Sabean would believe that Harden is a risk worth taking right now?!), but would it kill them to be a little more forthcoming than they have been? No one who has watched the A’s for more than two minutes ever believed that Harden was ‘day-to-day’, and expecting reasonable people to buy the fact that Harden was a little stiff from a plane flight was all well and good until you put him on the DL for another mysterious injury.

If I am Rich Harden, and I have had multiple, reoccurring, completely mysterious injuries that just don’t happen to show up during MRIs and the like, and I want to continue to play baseball, I am going to do everything I can to accomplish this goal; INCLUDING possible exploratory surgery. The diagnosis of ‘resting until it feels better’ just isn’t working, and I’m not quite sure why it’s still considered a viable fix.

In a somewhat related tangent, the Toronto announcer tonight had an interesting comment regarding Dana Eveland and David Wells.

He said, “You can’t pull fat.”

In the case of David Wells, it was intimated that the reason for his health and his pitching longevity might actually have been the protection of his weight. It has long been suspected that Harden’s frame (like Tim Hudson’s) simply can’t absorb his pitching motion; thus turning him into an injury risk. I am not a doctor; I hold no special insight into Harden’s health, but for the love of this multi-million dollar baseball corporation, can not one single medical professional find a way to officially diagnose Rich Harden?

I don't think A's fans (and the organization itself) are out of line in demanding to know what is actually wrong with Harden. Is it possible to pitch through the injury? How is this injury caused? What can prevent it? Should Harden be pitching at all? For years, we have been fed party lines and incomplete answers, and somehow that's just not good enough this year. If Rich Harden was my employee, I would demand just a little bit more of an explanation than 'it hurts'.

And maybe the bottom line is that the A’s ‘need’ Rich Harden like they ‘need’ Alex Rodriguez; both of them would be great assets to the A’s club, but both are not actually going to play for the A’s. And Beane prepared for this. With the off-season trades restocking the A’s depleted farm system, the A’s appear to be in good shape pitching-wise; replacing Haren with Blanton (who is doing his best to fill the ace role, right down to his lousy run support against other #1 pitchers--hello C.C. tonight!), and with the addition of both Dana Eveland and Greg Smith to the current rotation. There is still talent waiting in the wings; the A’s haven’t touched Gio Gonzalez yet, but you can bet that no one has forgotten him.
I saw both Smith and Eveland at Spring Training this year, and I was very impressed. Obviously, so was the A’s management. I thought both of these players could have made the club out of Spring Training, and as it turned out, they practically did. I could be wrong, but calling up these guys right now does not exactly scream ‘rebuilding’ to me; if the A’s were desperate for a warm body to make a spot start in an injured player’s absence, it seems that they would have gone to one of their ‘league-average-#5’ starters. I found it interesting that despite all the speculation, and the availability of pitchers like Saarloos, the A’s went ahead and pulled the trigger on Smith. Either they are ominously foretelling the severity of a Duchscherer injury, or they think--dare I even say it?--that they might be able to compete--at least give it a shot--in the West.

And who knows? Maybe this time they will get it right. Maybe Harden will be activated right after his DL stint and join the A’s rotation for the rest of a long, fulfilling, productive season.

But I’m never going to count on it again. That dream is over; I’m putting my fandom behind Blanton, Smith, Eveland, Gaudin, and someday Gio, all of whom may never come close to being Rich Harden.

And you know what? I can live with that.