The right-hander looks for his second straight victory while trying to help the Cubs bounce back from a loss as they continue their home series with the surging Houston Astros on Tuesday afternoon.
Harden (1-1, 1.11 ERA) enters this contest after allowing a run and six hits while striking out nine in seven innings of an 11-4 win at Milwaukee on Thursday for his first victory since being traded from Oakland on July 8.
“I felt as strong as I’ve been,” said Harden, who has allowed three runs and 14 hits while striking out 39 in 24 1-3 innings over four starts for Chicago.
“You kind of feed off each other. You see every starter going out there and doing really well, and you want to match them,” Harden said. “I think it is contagious. … It’s a pretty amazing staff here.”
While making his first appearance against Houston (54-57), Harden hopes to help the Cubs rebound from a 2-0 rain-shortened loss to the Astros in Monday’s opener. The teams suffered through a pair of severe weather delays—the first lasting 2 hours, 45 minutes—before the game was called in the bottom of the eighth inning.
“This time of year with the playoffs and teams in contention, we know it’s tough,” umpire crew chief Wally Bell said. “When the second rain came, it just wasn’t going to happen. We talked to everybody and then called the game.”
It was the second loss in nine contests for Chicago (67-46), which holds a five-game lead over Milwaukee in the NL Central.
Carlos Lee had two hits and an RBI, while Hunter Pence extended his hitting streak to 10 games for the Astros, who have won four in a row and eight of 10. Lee is 6-for-14 through four games in August and batting .359 (14-for-39) with nine RBIs in 10 meetings with the Cubs this season. Pence, meanwhile, is hitting .432 (16-for-37) during his streak.
Wandy Rodriguez (6-4, 3.61) takes the mound for Houston after allowing six runs and nine hits in 4 2-3 innings of a 9-5 loss to Cincinnati on Wednesday to snap a personal four-game winning streak.
“Wandy wasn’t real sharp,” Houston manager Cecil Cooper said. “He didn’t have his usual sharpness on his breaking ball.”
The left-hander is 4-4 with a 4.12 ERA versus the Cubs and gave up a run in 6 2-3 innings of a 4-1 home win over Chicago on July 19. Rodriguez is 1-3 with a 7.58 ERA at Wrigley Field.
Chicago manager Lou Piniella rested starters Derrek Lee and Ryan Theriot on Monday, but both should be back in the lineup. Lee is batting .421 (8-for-19) with two homers and seven RBIs versus Rodriguez, while Theriot is 8-for-14 with three doubles and a home run.
The Cubs could activate All-Star closer Kerry Wood from the disabled list as early as Tuesday. Wood, who has 24 saves in 29 chances, has been out since July 11 with a blister on his right index finger.
“He should have a nice fresh arm between now and the end of the year,” said Cubs manager Lou Piniella, who plans to use Wood in middle relief to start.