Rich Harden's Thrill-A-Minute Ride Begins

Can Harden hold up?

Perhaps it's unfair to have these doubts about Rich Harden. He did, after all, make it through his entire first Cubs season. Thanks to some really careful, intelligent managing by Lou Piniella and pitching coach Larry Rothschild, Harden didn't suffer the breakdowns that have plagued almost every year of his maddeningly injury-riddled career.

What makes Harden's career so frustrating is that he's so good, so sharp, and so smart when he's healthy. When he's not, he's unusable. There is no in-between. Harden can't be a league-average innings eater. He's either your ace or stuck on the disabled list.

Friday night will be Harden's first opportunity in 2009 to prove that last year wasn't a fluke. Harden faces the Brewers this evening, and like Carlos Zambrano, it will be truly interesting to watch Harden work a game. How will he look? How sharp will his moving stuff be? How confident will he look? How will he pace himself? There are tons of questions, and the answers won't all come tonight, but it's something, you know? At this point, it's all we have.

And it begins a season-long Rich Harden odyssey we're not sure we're ready to embark on. Every time he starts to look slightly uncomfortable, every time his velocity drops a few notches, every time he squibbles a breaking ball into the dirt, we'll wonder if something is wrong. And then the process begins again. This is Rich Harden. This is Cubs baseball.

Even in April, never a dull moment.

Eamonn Brennan is a Chicago-based writer, editor and blogger who blames Rich's goofy mechanics. You can also read him at Yahoo! Sports, Mouthpiece Sports Blog, and Inside The Hall, or at his personal site, Follow him on Twitter.

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