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Although there had been a small chance Lou Piniella would give the ball to last year’s ace, Ryan Dempster, to start on Opening Day, he’s going to go with Carlos Zambrano for the fifth straight year.

As we know, Zambrano has had mixed success on Opening Day, but I tend to think this is a small sample statistical fluke more than anything else. So the decision is fine with me.

What concerns me slightly more is what Piniella had to say about the rest of the rotation.

Zambrano will be followed by Dempster, Ted Lilly and Rich Harden in the rotation with the fifth starter to be determined. Because the Cubs will skip the No. 5 starter in the first turn, Lilly is in line to start the home opener April 13 against Colorado. cubs.com.

I understand that order. Lilly breaks up the righties, even though Harden is the better pitcher. But here’s what I don’t get:

If you’re going to skip the fifth starter the first time around, why in the world wouldn’t you make Rich Harden the fifth starter? Let’s assume the fourth starter is Sean Marshall or Aaron Heilman (because it will be). Is the drop off from Harden to one of those two so severe – in an April game – that it’s worth pushing Harden right off the bat?

Lou has already said that he does not expect Harden to start 30 games this year. So if he’s only going to start 20-25 games, wouldn’t you rather that they came later in the season and, oh, you know, the playoffs?

It seems to me, when you get a chance to skip Rich Harden without messing up anyone else’s rest, you do it every time. There is no doubt that Rich Harden is the best pitcher on this team. But he’s fragile, and he has limited stamina over the course of a season.

Harden just now started throwing in Spring Training games. Sure, he can be ready for the start of the season, but taking it easy makes a lot of sense.

Why push it in April?

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