Twins taking it slow with pitcher Harden

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Minnesota Twins are being patient with Rich Harden, who is trying to win a job with the team after shoulder surgery cost him last season.

A former power pitcher, Harden is trying to revive his career following the rotator cuff operation on Jan. 31 last year. He's with the Twins on a minor league contract.

"The doctors really hadn't done a lot of these surgeries," Harden said. "Not like Tommy John surgery, where they have a set schedule and know where you should be. I guess when I look back at that time I guess I'm right around where I should be. I almost didn't know what to expect. Was going day to day."

After going 10-2 for Oakland and the Chicago Cubs in 2008, when he struck out 181 batters in 148 innings, Harden was 9-9 for the Cubs in 2009, 5-5 for Texas in 2010 and 4-4 for Oakland in 2011.

"He's a strikeout pitcher," first baseman Justin Morneau said. "Throws hard. He's got a good split. He's a guy who can make a difference. Whether he pitches out of the bullpen or starts he can come in and get a strikeout if you need it. It makes a difference if you have those guys."


Harden started light throwing last July.

"Just lobbing really short," Harden said. "It's been such slow steady progress. The toughest part is just such a slow build up. A little more throws. A little more distance."

He began throwing off a mound in November.

"I started with 15 pitches," Harden said. "It was five or six weeks off flat ground first of all and then the front slope of the mound for two weeks. Then the top of the mound. It was the best I felt in six years."

Harden was not part of the group of healthy pitchers throwing batting practice Monday.

"We got a long way to go," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We're going to get him to where he can do everything. Right now, he needs a few days. He's feeling great and we want to keep it that way. A real slow process here with him."

In the past few years, Harden said he pitched in pain all the time. Sometimes when he wasn't on the mound it was merely a throbbing pain.

"The main thing when I was throwing it was real sharp," Harden said. "Kind of had to be all in max effort and there were times I would start a game at 86 or 87 (mph). I'd be max. ... When I sat down every inning it just kind of got worse."


He's still trying to play because he missed the competition. Coming off a 66-96 record and last-place finish in the AL Central, the Twins could use pitching help.

"If he's healthy I feel he's going to help us out a lot," catcher Joe Mauer said. "That was a nice pickup."

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