When Rich Harden took a three-start losing streak into a five-week stint on the disabled list, the momentum he built during a brilliant second half in 2004 seemed like a distant memory.
Fortunately for Harden and the Oakland Athletics, the right-hander has rediscovered his form.
Harden will shoot for his fourth win in as many starts since returning from the DL as the A’s wrap up a three-game series with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Harden, touted as one of the key pitchers in the organization after the departures of staff aces Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder this past offseason, suffered three straight losses from May 2-13 before being sidelined with a strained left oblique muscle.
He returned to the rotation on June 21, and is once again flashing the arsenal of pitches that helped him go 8-2 with a 3.49 ERA after last year’s All-Star break.
Harden has allowed just one earned run and seven hits over 17 2-3 innings since his return. He yielded a pair of unearned runs and four hits over 5 2-3 innings in Friday’s 6-2 victory over the major league-leading Chicago White Sox, striking out five and walking one.
“It’s a pretty good feeling, coming out and playing like that against one of the best teams in baseball,” said Harden, who opened the season 2-0 in his first four outings.
The A’s are 7-3 in games started by Harden this season. He has excelled on the road this year, going 3-1 with a 1.48 ERA in four outings.
After taking the series opener 10-7, Oakland had a chance to climb above .500 on Wednesday, but was turned back by Toronto starter Ted Lilly, who pitched seven strong innings in an 8-0 victory for the Blue Jays.
Vernon Wells homered during a five-run eighth inning for Toronto, which recorded its sixth shutout win of the season.
The Blue Jays have won five of seven.
Oakland suffered just its second loss in 12 games. The A’s reached .500 for the first time since May 2 on Tuesday.