As a reliever.
Oakland manager Bob Geren made the somewhat surprising announcement Monday while Harden was playing a rigorous game of catch in the outfield during batting practice.
"If everything went perfect," Geren said before the opener of a three-game series against the visiting Red Sox at McAfee Coliseum, "he might be ready for an inning against St. Louis or something."
The A's host the Cardinals in a three-game Interleague series June 15-17, and while Harden has repeatedly made clear his desire to be a starter despite frequent suggestions that he might be able to stay healthier working out of the bullpen, he's all for working his way back into the rotation while helping cover for the absences of closer Huston Street (elbow nerve) and top setup man Justin Duchscherer (right hip).
"It's something we've talked about," Harden said. "And I think that's a good idea with Justin and Street out. We definitely need some help out there. ... That way I can build up my pitch count.
"It's not like it's permanent."
Asked for his thoughts on the notion that he'd be better off as a full-time reliever, Harden smiled and responded the way a 4-year-old might respond to an unwanted suggestions -- with a tongue-out raspberry: "Phfffft!"
"Everybody's got their theories," he continued. "Whatever."
Geren and assistant general manager David Forst stopped well short of saying a move to the bullpen would be anything more than temporary for Harden, too.
"It's just been talked about," Geren said. "When he's ready to pitch, we'd rather see him here than in a rehab stint. From there we can build him up."
"If he did pitch one inning at a time, it would be toward the end of building him up as a starter," Forst said. "We have a closer. Rich Harden can be our best starter. I wouldn't say it's a shift in philosophy. ... Long-term, we still think this guy's one of the best starters in the league.
"Until he's ready to pitch six or seven innings in a game, we want Rich Harden to pitch for us in any capacity he can."
Added Harden: "Whether it's starting or in the 'pen. I just want to help my team any way I can."
Street work: Street was on the field some five hours before Monday's game, going through his regular regimen of agility drills, and afterward he said he expects to play catch for the first time in 24 days on Wednesday.
"In a perfect world, I'd like to be back, hopefully, before the All-Star break (July 9-11)," Street said. "But we haven't really discussed it."
Street said he's spoken with a number of pitchers around the league regarding the recovery time from his irritated ulnar nerve, including teammate Joe Kennedy, who had the injury in the Minors.
"The standard is pretty much three, four weeks," Street said. "They say it's a day [of rehab] for every day you're out, but you never know. It's a nerve. Muscles heal the fastest, tendons and ligaments are next, and then nerves."
Dribblers: Outfielder Milton Bradley, out with a right calf strain, did not start and remains listed as "day-to-day" on the injury report Geren gets from the medical staff every day. ... The A's will get their first look at Japanese rookie sensation Daisuke Matsuzaka on Tuesday, but Geren didn't have much to say about him. "I just know he's another great pitcher we have to face," said the skipper. "We've faced a lot of them." ... Asked what might happen if he ultimately decided that Harden would be better off in the bullpen and Harden resisted, Geren said he didn't want to get into hypotheticals but noted, "It's always, in my opinion, what's best for the team." ... Outfielder Chris Snelling, on the 15-day disabled list with a bruised left knee, was scheduled to begin a 10- to 12-game rehab assignment at Triple-A Sacramento on Monday night.
Up next: A's lefty Lenny DiNardo (1-2, 1.80 ERA), who pitched for the Red Sox last season, will get the ball Tuesday opposite Matsuzaka (7-3, 4.83 ERA) in the second game of the series. The first pitch is set for 7:05 p.m. PT.
Mychael Urban is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.