Update on The Latest Cub Unicorn

There is this article in today's Sun-Times about Rich Harden's winter rehab. He's working on a  6 day a week strengthening program that could be the most rigorous of any Cub this offseason. It's designed to "ease" him up to pitching conditions "by the end" of spring training. Fine. I remember this somewhere in the not too distant Cub past (including the Larry Rothschild quotes). Flushed with a strong sense of Déjà vu, I finally saw some new information in the article:

But sources also confirmed Saturday that Harden has a tear in the joint, just severe enough that some players might seek surgery but slight enough to be in a range often treated effectively with a strengthening program, therapy and a well- managed work schedule.


Gordon Wittenmyer in the Sun-Times doesn't give enough info to make me absolutely certain but the implication is Harden is putting up with a "Kerry Wood type" rotator cuff tear. I do recall that Harden underwent an MRI/Arthrogram after the season to better assess his shoulder issues and before the team decided to pick up his $7 Million option. The press was told this on October 8th:

General manager Jim Hendry said an MRI-arthrogram on Harden's shoulder revealed no tears of the labrum or rotator cuff, referring to Harden's problems as "subtle instability in the shoulder."

At the Cubs Convention yesterday GW's article says "sources" confirmed Harden has "a tear in the joint." This implies the rotator cuff tissue has an area that is showing structural damage on the MRI/Arthrogram, but not involving the full thickness of the cuff tendon and thus without any detachment from it's insertion on bone (greater tuberosity). Any surgical repair has to take down some degenerative tissue that is worn but not detached. The results of surgery on that type of situation would be iffy for a high end starting pitcher, especially if they were counting on him for 2009. Hence he's on a non-surgical treatment protocol analagous to what Kerry Wood went through after his MRI/Arthrogram in July 2006.

Just for grins, here are two of the quotes leaning toward non-surgical treatment after Wood's MRI/Arthrogram:

(Cubs trainer Mark) O'Neal said: "In all reality, there are significant number of people who have successfully returned conservatively."

"My gut feeling is saying no surgery and strengthen it," Wood said Saturday. "I've still got to get more opinions. 

And since I was trying to reflect on previous prognostications, I dug up this Will Carroll (Baseball Prospectus) piece on Wood and Prior from February 20th, 2006:

You can't have spring training anymore without pitcher problems or at least rumors of said problems. Those usually start with the Cubs, and this year is no different. Reliable sources--the same ones that tipped us early to Mark Prior's Achilles problem--now tell us that Prior is having shoulder problems. The Cubs deny this and point to Prior's work on the mound. Prior was doing towel drills on Saturday, but this is the same type of work he was doing last year when there was a problem. According to our best sources in Mesa, Prior looks "weak and sick." Until he throws, we just won't know, though I'd like to believe Larry Rothschild.

News is better for Kerry Wood, on track to get back in the rotation by May. The Cubs have depth in the rotation and a favorable early schedule to give them time, even if Wood has a small setback. Wood will return to the rotation. If he's ever a bullpen guy, it won't be for the Cubs.


I agree that this is the right course of action for Harden but his status is analagous to the unicorn in Tennessee Williams classic play "The Glass Menagerie". This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone as Jim Hendry knew he was getting an ace pitcher made of glass. It's just that he's lacked a diagnosis that matched his situation up to this point. Hmmmm, the downside of this problem can go pretty low, but it's not a long term contract as Harden is on a one year deal. When Hendry traded Sean Gallagher, Josh Donaldson, Eric Patterson and Matt Murton for Harden last July 8th, he made enough of a statement that clearly he's going to play out the hand he's ante-upped for. We're going to see if Harden can functionally start on a regular enough basis to not be overly disruptive to the rest of the pitching staff, which is what we got in 2008. Clearly, he's awesome when his shoulder isn't bothering him.

It makes me wonder if he too will become bullpen material at some point in his career.

Déjà vu? Oh, and please remind Mr. Harden of the hazards that await when slipping while getting out of the hot tub.

Comments

and don't forget to check out the links to this article...

particularly the "Rich Harden" and "downside" links

Nicely done, Dr. Hecht. But dammit.

Looks to me like, unless the Cubs are ready to have both Marshall and the Shark or Marshall and Gaudin in the starting rotation for some time this year, they may need to go out and get another guy who can start. Someone who could be effective but won't block Marshall? Guess that might be asking too much.

by the way Rob...that's a great pic of Harden!

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