The 29-year-old hurler, vying for the fifth spot in the rotation as part of his second tour with the A's, first experienced pain during Tuesday's bullpen session. It was very much reminiscent, he said, of the soreness he suffered while throwing a bullpen session upon his arrival in the United States following Oakland's trip to Japan at the end of March three years ago.
Harden managed to make one start in April that year before missing a month because of the same injury. He believes his rehab process was rushed then and is hopeful that not pushing it this time around will have him back on a mound within weeks.
The optimistic Harden also finds a positive in knowing that his return from the injury in 2008 was followed by the best performance of his career -- a 10-2 record with a 2.07 ERA in 25 combined starts with the A's and Cubs. The righty was ahead of schedule this spring -- he was slated to throw 40 pitches on Tuesday -- and still feels confident in his ability to remain a rotation candidate alongside Josh Outman, Tyson Ross, Brandon McCarthy and Bobby Cramer, although Harden admitted, "It's out of my hands."
"I came in here, felt like I was in good shape, felt strong," Harden said. "I've got some time, so I have to be positive about it. Obviously, with the year I had last year, it was even more exciting coming into this season, working with [pitching coach] Ron Romanick and feeling good, feeling how I was in '08. That's the best I've felt."
Romanick, who served as the A's bullpen coach during the 2008 season, has closely worked with Harden since the time he was drafted by Oakland in '00. His help, along with the work of new head trainer Nick Paparesta, has Harden feeling geared for a successful rehab process.
However, it's no secret that his health isn't necessarily on his side, as Harden's career has been hampered by a rash of injuries. Since going 11-7 with a 3.99 ERA in 31 starts during the 2004 season, 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.
During his time with the Rangers, as well as with the Cubs, Harden underwent a series of changes to his mechanics. Thus, he believes his injury may be a result of throwing correctly again and, subsequently, using muscles differently than he has in the past two years.
"I've been back to getting good extension, a lot more than I have the last couple of years," Harden said. "Obviously, the body needs to adjust to it.
"I just have to focus on getting healthy and building up. The hard part is not pushing things. All I can control is what I can do on a daily basis to get better. It's frustrating, but I still feel like I can go out there and do well. I'm hopeful to come back strong and get ready for the season."