Inside Pitch's Oakland A's Season Preview

Will the Big Hurt be healthy this season?

Inside Pitch gives us a preview of the main issues facing the Oakland A's going into Opening Day.

Roster Moves

The A's knew they'd have a tough decision involving Freddie Bynum when spring training started. Bynum's performance this spring made it even tougher.

Bynum is out of options and doesn't appear to have a spot on the 25-man roster. The A's don't want to lose Bynum, whom they drafted in the second round (their first pick) in the 2000 draft, then groomed and developed and watched blossom last year.

And Bynum won't clear waivers, so a trade is possible. Bynum has been heavily scouted this spring, and there's plenty of interest.

It's pretty clear Frank Thomas will be ready for Opening Night, so that potential roster spot isn't open.

One option that is becoming more likely is placing outfielder Bobby Kielty on the disabled list to begin the year because of a strained oblique that's been slow to heal. That would buy the A's two weeks to make a decision.

Bynum can help the A's, or any team, in a variety of ways. He can play third, short, second or any of the outfield positions. He's the fastest player in the organization and the best base-stealing threat.

In fact, with Thomas almost assured of getting lifted for a pinch runner after his fourth plate appearance each game, Bynum would be ideal as Thomas' designated pinch runner.

Beyond Bynum, the A's roster is set. There are 11 pitchers and only one left-handed reliever. A's manager Ken Macha would prefer a second lefty, but he went through most of last season with just one lefty and will have to do it again.

Many of the A's right-handed relievers, including Justin Duchscherer and Huston Street, are efficient at getting righties and lefties out.

The A's have the depth they lacked a year ago.

Kirk Saarloos and Joe Kennedy, former starters, are in the bullpen. They can step into the rotation if needed. Saarloos will be used as a long reliever in case a starter is knocked out early or the game goes into extra innings.

The A's have a number of options in AAA waiting in the wings. In the bullpen, Ron Flores, Chris Mabeus and Santiago Casilla figure to be in AAA and all could be in the majors on another team. Former major leaguers Mac Suzuki, Randy Keisler and Jason Karnuth will also be in the mix in AAA.

In the starting rotation at AAA, prospects Shane Komine, John Rheinecker, Dan Meyer, Chad Gaudin and the newly acquired Brad Halsey all could fill in as a spot starter in a pinch.

Injury Watch

The A's have a number of players coming off of injuries who will be watched carefully this season. Milton Bradley's knee is not an issue right now, but he has had injury problems throughout his career. He will probably be given days off on a regular basis. Bobby Crosby had an injury-filled 2005 and came into camp complaining of shoulder pain. It seem to have quieted for now, but it will be watched throughout the season. Eric Chavez's bulky right throwing shoulder will also be monitored closely.

Mark Kotsay's back was an issue for three days this spring and could be an issue throughout the season. Antonio Perez is suffering from the after-effects of being beaned between the eyes with a foul ball last week. He was hit by a pitch in the face this winter and suffered a concussion, so the A's are being cautious with this latest beaning. Frank Thomas, naturally, will be a big injury question mark throughout the season.

PRIMED FOR A BIG SEASON:

3B Eric Chavez has plenty of great hitters around him in the lineup, which should make it more difficult for opposing teams to pitch around him. Chavez is leading the team in home runs and driving the ball with authority to all fields. He is a notorious slow starter but hopes that will change this year since he's using his leg kick all spring -- instead of waiting for the season, which he did in the past.

ON THE DECLINE:

OF Bobby Kielty spent more time in the training room because of a strained oblique than the field this spring. That's not good since Kielty is the fifth outfielder and needed to remind the A's of his potential with a big spring. It was also a chance for Kielty to audition for the other 29 teams. Now he's primed to start the season on the bench with little prospect of playing time.

News and Notes

--The biggest storyline entering spring training for the A's was whether Frank Thomas would be ready by the season opener. As that date neared, Thomas had an answer.

"I can get in there with the big boys," Thomas said. "I'm ready now. I'm comfortable. I could start the season right now and be fine."

There's still a difference between Thomas saying he will be ready, and the medical staff clearing him, and the A's activating him, but it's just about a foregone conclusion he'll be hitting third Opening Night.

Thomas declared this after facing A's pitchers Joe Blanton, Kirk Saarloos, Jay Witasick and Joe Kennedy in an intrasquad game at the team's minor league complex. He followed that up with a homerun in his Catcus League debut versus Josh Fogg.

"His timing was great," hitting coach Gerald Perry said. "He's putting the barrel of the bat on the ball. He's laying off tough pitches off the plate."

After Thomas' fourth at-bat in games, he'll likely be lifted for a pinch runner. The A's felt if they can get 100 games out of Thomas, they will be happy. The way Thomas' foot has responded this spring, they could end up getting 120 or 130 games.

"He's been going pretty hard," Perry said. "He'll be ready for Opening Day. I have no doubt about it, to be honest."

--RHP Kiko Calero has showed additional zip on his fastball and the usual sharpness on his devastating slider this spring. Calero didn't allow a run in the World Baseball Classic games for Puerto Rico, putting him in great shape as one of two primary setup relievers.

--2B Mark Ellis has responded to hitting the leadoff spot with a great spring. Ellis was the team's best hitter the final two months of 2005, which earned him first crack at the leadoff spot.

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