Rumblings of a reunion began last week, but the A's made their second partnership with hurler Rich Harden official on Tuesday by announcing a one-year deal with the right-hander. The 29-year-old righty, who received a contract worth $1.5 million plus incentives, will begin his second tour of duty with Oakland vying for the fifth spot in the rotation. Though he appears a natural candidate for that role, he'll have several competitors, including newly signed righty Brandon McCarthy, as well as Tyson Ross, Josh Outman and Bobby Cramer. Thus, Harden could ultimately land in an A's bullpen where depth is needed. Either way, pitching coach Ron Romanick -- who has closely worked with Harden since the time he was drafted by Oakland in 2000 -- believes the hurler can return to his old form, the same one that created whispers about his potential of joining the ranks of Oakland's "Big Three" unit of Mark Mulder, Barry Zito and Tim Hudson.
"He's got swing-and-miss-type pitches, and his arm is a nice fit for us in whatever capacity," Romanick said. "I think, in hearing him speak to the front office, he's got an open mind and just wants to pitch. Obviously there was a comfort level for him coming back here. "I'm happy for Rich and hoping we can get him back on track to where he was a couple of years ago. I'm looking forward to reuniting with him. If you ask around, when he's on, he matches up with anybody's No. 1. He's got that kind of aura about him. He can go out and shut you down. It's just the consistency factor and the little hiccups that seem to derail him -- we're going to try to stay a step ahead of that." All but 10 of Harden's 155 Major League appearances have come as a starter. While with Oakland from 2003 until July 2008, when he was traded to the Cubs, he went 36-19 with a 3.42 ERA in 97 appearances, 89 of them starts. But since going 11-7 with a 3.99 ERA in 31 starts during the 2004 season, Harden's career has been hampered by a rash of various injuries. He has made at least 20 starts in just two of the six seasons that have followed and has endured nine disabled-list stints -- six of them coming in Oakland -- throughout his career. Most recently, Harden battled shoulder and glute injuries with Texas during the 2010 campaign, pitching to a 5-5 record and 5.58 ERA in 20 games (18 starts). He didn't make any playoff appearances with the American League champion Rangers and was designated for assignment once the season concluded. "Obviously he was disappointed he didn't do more for Texas last year, but health is not an issue anymore," Romanick said. "He passed his physical and says he feels great. Now it's about getting back to the things he did really well. He did it to us last year. I saw flashes of that when he started against us, and when I saw him on TV a couple of other times. He was just inconsistent. "Whether it's in a starter or reliever role, you come in with that kind of arm, and you can make an impact. That's what I expect from him. He has all this potential, and it's a matter of keeping him on the field and keeping him motivated and hungry." The motivation part figures to be of no worry. Romanick, who lives just 10 minutes from Harden during the offseason in Arizona, said he will gladly act as Harden's alarm clock if need be starting in January, when the two will begin work together on Harden's throwing program. "I told him that us living so close could be a good thing or a bad thing," Romanick said, laughing. "You don't want me knocking on your door all the time, saying, 'Let's go!' He knows I've done it before, so I will if I have to -- even if he has a gated house. "I've reminded him of all the work he put in during the '08 season when he was able to stay on the field. He was able to put together a pretty doggone good year. I'm looking to double down on that and more. He's given me every indication he's going to come to the table with that kind of motivation. It will be exciting when we start up again." Overall, Harden owns a career 55-34 mark with a 3.63 ERA and 858 strikeouts next to 391 walks through 845 2/3 innings of work. His ratio of 9.13 strikeouts per nine innings ranks second among hurlers with 750 or more innings pitched since 2003. "He's always worked hard and always kept himself in shape," Romanick said. "We've seen the numbers he can post, so with him you try to minimize all those little bumps in the road and keep him on a structured routine." Harden represented Oakland's fifth signing in the past nine days, and his presence means the club has a full 40-man roster. However, general manager Billy Beane recently indicated that the club is far from completing its winter makeover, which could continue in the form of added bullpen help.