For Openers, Zito Ready For Challenge

Zito will likely get the Opening Day nod.

As the A's Opening Day starter, even though it isn't official, Barry Zito will face Randy Johnson in his first game. Then he'll likely oppose Jamie Moyer in his second game, Kevin Millwood in his third game, then probably Kenny Rogers or Jeremy Bonderman in his fourth game.

Such is life when you're the ace of a pitching staff. Throughout the season, a No. 1 starter doesn't always face the other team's No. 1 starter, but it occurs frequently in April.

A year ago, the opposing pitchers for Zito's starts in April were, in order, Baltimore's Rodrigo Lopez (No. 1), Tampa Bay's Hideo Nomo (No. 1), Anaheim's Bartolo Colon (No. 1), Seattle's Joel Piniero (No. 5), and the White Sox's Jon Garland (a No. 5 who pitched like a No. 1).

The A's scored two runs or less in four of those five games in what turned into a winless April for Zito.

"You can't shy away from those matchups," Zito said. "You have to thrive off them and use it to your advantage."

Thursday's Notebook

--RHP Rich Harden threw a simulated game Wednesday on the team's lone off day, which keeps him slotted to start the second game of the season against the New York Yankees.

--RHP Esteban Loaiza probably will rejoin the A's this weekend, once Mexico is officially eliminated from the World Baseball Classic. That will allow pitching coach Curt Young and manager Ken Macha to figure out an order for Loaiza, RHP Dan Haren and RHP Joe Blanton for the third, fourth and fifth spots in the rotation.

--SS Bobby Crosby and 2B Mark Ellis were on the diamond together for the first time Tuesday. Crosby has been slowed by shoulder tendonitis and has only played nine innings in the field (he has DH'd regularly). He's yet to have a grounder hit his way.

--RHP Huston Street has only pitched two innings for Team USA, plus an inning in an exhibition game against the Giants, and the A's are concerned he's not getting enough work.

--OF Milton Bradley stole his second base of the spring Tuesday, giving him the team lead. It's almost certain Bradley will lead the A's, who rarely run, in steals. He stole 17 and 15 in 2003 and 2004. The A's team leader last year was 3B Eric Chavez with six.

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