A's Still Strong Armed?

Can Duchscherer step in the rotation?

Even without Dan Haren and, perhaps, Joe Blanton, the A's have the makings of an interesting rotation -- and perhaps one that could outperform expectations.

As with everything with Oakland, health will determine whether the 2008 rotation gives the A's a chance each night -- or if it gives opponents a chance. Reports on Rich Harden, Chad Gaudin and Justin Duchscherer are encouraging, though, and, especially if Joe Blanton isn't traded, that's certainly a group with a lot of talent.

Harden is the most closely monitored of Oakland's pitchers, but he played catch three times recently and, according to assistant GM David Forst, Harden felt fine. He recently had a cortisone shot for biceps tendinitis, but Harden said that he does not believe the problem to be one that will keep him out of action. It's treatable, and he thinks he can throw through any nagging biceps soreness.

The most interesting member of the group is Duchscherer, who is penciled in as the No. 3 starter if Blanton is moved, No. 4 if he stays. Duchscherer hasn't started regularly since 2003, when he went 14-2 at Triple-A Sacramento and also started three games for the A's, plus he's coming off hip surgery that ended his 2007 season prematurely.

Moving him to the rotation after hip surgery might sound like a head-scratcher, but many believe that Duchscherer will be less prone to injuries as a starter than he was as a heavily used setup man. He will be able to prepare in an exact fashion rather than getting up and sitting down again, and he'll be on a regular schedule for preventative maintenance and workouts.

One thing is for sure: If Duchscherer's stats can at all translate from relief to the rotation, he'll be more than solid. He has allowed 233 hits in 260 1/3 innings as a reliever -- and he has struck out 214 while walking 70.

A's News And Notes
--RHP Chad Gaudin, who right now would be the No. 2 or 3 starter, is recovering from hip and foot surgery, but he told assistant GM David Forst that he is feeling good. There is some thought that he might be able to pitch during spring training.

--RHP Joe Blanton is still linked to numerous trade talk involving teams seeking pitching -- mainly the Mets, who are longtime admirers, and Seattle. One major league source said that an A's deal with the Mariners is somewhat unlikely because outfielder Adam Jones would have to be included and Seattle isn't thrilled with the thought of Jones possibly turning into a star for a division rival.

--Others who will vie for rotation spots: lefty Dan Meyer (who is out of options) and lefty Dana Eveland, who was acquired in the Dan Haren trade. It will be a lefty-heavy competition because Lenny DiNardo and Dallas Braden also will be in the running.

--Among those on the list for invites to major league camp: pitchers Brad Ziegler, Greg Smith, Arnold Leon and James Simmons; third baseman Jeff Baisley; outfielder Aaron Cunningham; and catchers Anthony Recker and Jeremy Brown. Smith and Cunningham were part of the Dan Haren trade with Arizona.

--Minor league catcher Raul Padron will be suspended for the first 50 games of the season after testing positive for a banned substance. Padron hit .223 at High-A Stockton last year, but he also participated in the Arizona Fall League and hit .320 for Phoenix. The A's are thin in catching in the minors, with Kurt Suzuki called up last season and Landon Powell undergoing his second surgery to repair a knee ligament.

BY THE NUMBERS: .257 -- Oakland's batting average after the All-Star break, bucking a near decade-long trend of hot second halves.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "You have to wonder. That's a question mark. After the winter meetings, we all took a sigh of relief when we didn't do anything, but now there might be a few of us. I guess we'll just wait and see." -- A's closer Huston Street on the possibility that the team might trade more players after sending ace Dan Haren to Arizona.

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