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Ah, I bet you thought this obsessive watch was over.

After a string of poor, short outings, the Chicago Cubs have decided to skip Rich Harden’s turn in the rotation at least once to give the pitcher a breather.

Harden, who has made 26 starts, hasn’t pitched more than five innings in his last four starts while laboring an average of 22 pitches an inning.

Manager Lou Piniella said he will skip Harden’s next start Monday in Milwaukee, and possibly one more turn after that, with Tom Gorzelanny taking his place.

For Harden (9-9, 4.28 ERA), two skipped starts would leave him with only one more, but Piniella and general manager Jim Hendry denied reports Thursday that they plan to shut him down.

Piniella and other team officials said Harden, who has a history of shoulder problems, is not hurt.

”Nothing wrong with him at all,” Piniella said. ”We’re just giving him a breather.”

”As far as I’m concerned it’s one start,” he said. ”Just a little tired from working [too many pitches per inning] the last couple starts. Hey, I want to make every start out there. But it might be the best thing for me right now.”

Pitching coach Larry Rothschild, who called the issue ”fatigue,” said he’s not so sure Harden will miss more than Monday’s start. CHICAGO SUN-TIMES.


Harden has never been one to throw a whole lot of innings in a season, so the fact that he might be wearing down after a relatively full season is no surprise. Then again, it is difficult to believe that the tear in Harden’s shoulder is not at least a part of the issue here.

One motivation in allowing Harden to return for a final start or two, even if the Cubs are eliminated by then, is to give the pending free agent a chance to prove he’s healthy enough to pitch as he enters a winter of contract uncertainty.

”I think that uncertainty is going to be there no matter what,” he said. ”A couple starts aren’t going to change anybody’s mind or remove doubts from people’s heads. But I’m still healthy. I’m feeling good. There’s nothing going on. It’s just a long season, and my workload has been that I’ve thrown a ton of pitches in five innings and four innings [in recent starts].”

Still too much uncertainty for me, with apologies to Rich. In a perfect world, the Cubs would offer Harden arbitration. Then, at most, the Cubs have Harden back for one year, and don’t get bit by a long, injury-filled contract. Alternatively, he signs elsewhere, and the Cubs get a couple first round picks for him.

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