- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 21, 2010

OAKLAND, CALIF. (AP) - Rich Harden is rejoining his first major league team.

The right-hander and the Oakland Athletics finalized a $1.5 million, one-year contract Tuesday after he passed a physical.

Harden went 5-5 with a 5.58 ERA in 20 appearances and 18 starts last season for the AL champion Texas Rangers. But he was designated for assignment after the regular season to give him his unconditional release after he struggled with injuries and control.

Harden, who began the season as the Rangers’ No. 2 starter, walked 62 batters in 92 innings. The A’s aren’t sure yet about whether Harden will be a reliever or starter. Manager Bob Geren has a formidable starting rotation heading into 2011 but the No. 5 job is up for grabs.


“We’re open-minded on Rich’s role here,” assistant general manager David Forst said. “I think it will play itself out in the spring.”

Harden’s health certainly will play a factor. He has been plagued by injuries for much of his eight-year big league career.

Oakland had penciled in Hisashi Iwakuma as a possible fifth starter but earlier this month failed to reach agreement with the Japanese right-hander during the allotted 30-day negotiating period, sending him back to his Japanese club.

The No. 5 spot could go to several candidates, including Bobby Cramer, Tyson Ross or left-hander Josh Outman, who missed last year recovering from Tommy John surgery but made a strong impression in the instructional league this fall.

The 29-year-old Harden spent two stints on the disabled list in 2010, first from June 12-July 30 with a left gluteal muscle strain and later with right shoulder tendinitis.

Oakland saw him miss his share of time, too.

Harden went 1-2 with a 2.45 ERA in only 25 2-3 innings in 2007 because of an inflamed right shoulder, and didn’t pitch after July 7 that year. He threw two simulated games late in the season with the hopes of making two final starts, but ultimately decided it wasn’t worth risking further injury.

He was 4-0 in nine games in 2006, spending time on the disabled list with a strained back and then a strained elbow ligament.