Oakland A's Notes: Preparing For Japan

The Oakland A's have had to adjust their spring training plans to accommodate their trip to Japan to open the season.

The team is opening three days earlier than usual, and manager Bob Geren said that he will get position players more innings earlier in exhibition games to make sure they're ready for the March 25-26 games against the Red Sox.

One plus for the A's, who have an unsettled rotation and several starters coming back from injuries: the Japan trip means that Oakland will need only two starters, total, for the first four games of the regular season. Whichever two pitchers go in Tokyo also will start when the team comes home to face Boston at the McAfee Coliseum after a weekend of exhibition games against the Giants.

Were the season to start right now, Geren said, those two starters would be Joe Blanton and Rich Harden. They're Oakland's two best starters, and they're also the longest-tenured starters.

It's equally possible that neither starts in Tokyo. Blanton has been the subject of trade talks much of the offseason, and the A's could move him before the season opens. Harden, meantime, has had several injury-filled seasons and still has some nagging biceps tendinitis that he says he can pitch through. Geren said that Harden is on a four-days-a-week throwing schedule and will pitch off the mound two weeks before pitchers and catchers report.

Harden is a big fan of Japanese culture and food and is excited about the trip, and there's little doubt he'd want to start one of the games. If he can't go or if the A's were to move Blanton, it's possible that Lenny DiNardo or recently signed Kirk Saarloos might start.

Justin Duchscherer, penciled into the rotation after three seasons in the bullpen, will benefit from the extra week for the rest of the starters because he's coming off hip surgery. Chad Gaudin (hip, foot) also will benefit -- his foot surgery has taken more time to recover from than the hip, but the A's won't need a fifth starter until April 12 because of the unusual schedule. That might be just enough time for Gaudin to be at 100 percent.

News And Notes

--OF Jack Cust, whose name surfaced in the Mitchell Report, denied ever using performance-enhancing substances. While appearing at the A's FanFest on Jan. 26, Cust refuted the accusations of former Orioles teammate Larry Bigbie, who told investigators that Cust admitted using steroids.

--RHP Joe Blanton avoided arbitration by signing a one-year, $3.7 million deal. The A's never discussed a long-term contract with Blanton, unlike closer Huston Street. It's strongly believed Blanton will be traded by midseason at the latest.

--3B Eric Chavez is continuing to recover well from three offseason surgeries (back, both shoulders) and has resumed baseball activity. The team might take it slowly with him this spring, but he is expected to accompany the team to Japan and play there, according to assistant GM David Forst.

--RHP Jose Garcia, released by the A's earlier in the offseason, was re-signed. Garcia, who had elbow surgery last year, is on a minor league deal and will not be in big-league camp.

Sacramento River Cats Notes

By River Cats Media Services

Results Physical Therapy, in cooperation with the Sacramento River Cats, will host a seminar for amateur baseball coaches on Monday, February 4th (6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.) about effective ways to prevent arm injuries in young athletes. The seminar will be open to the public at no charge and will take place at the Results Physical Therapy offices (9500 Micron Ave., Sacramento).

Amongst the speakers to appear at the seminar are Rick Rodriguez (River Cats Pitching Coach), Kyle Yamashiro (Physical Therapist for the River Cats and Sacramento State Athletics), Alan Hirahara (Team Physician and Orthopedic Surgeon for the Sacramento River Cats), Kenneth Akizuki (Team Physician for the San Francisco Giants) and David Cosca (Team Physician for the Sacramento Kings). River Cats starting pitcher Shane Komine will also be in attendance to assist with the presentation.

To RSVP or for more information on the seminar, contact Results Physical Therapy at (916) 362-2110 or kyle@resultstherapy.com.

Stockton Ports Notes

By Stockton Ports Media Services

The Stockton Ports are pleased to announce that Marty Lurie, host of the popular A's pre-game show, "Right Off The Bat", will be the keynote speaker at the team's first annual Hot Stove Banquet. The Banquet is set for Sunday, Feb. 10th, and will take place at the new Stockton Sheraton Hotel at Regent Pointe, located next to the Stockton Arena.

Lurie, a lifelong baseball aficionado, began his career as a criminal defense trial attorney. For 25 years, he specialized in homicide cases and was involved in over 100 cases during his career.

After years of working as the statistician for the GiantsVision board at Candlestick Park , Lurie pursued an opportunity to be involved in sports full-time and host an interview-format show. "Right Off The Bat" was born, and ten years later, it's still an ongoing entertaining celebration for baseball fans today. The show seeks to focus on everything in the world of major league baseball, including statistical facts and figures, game trends, performance leaders, breaking news, and a celebration of baseball history.

When the A's celebrated the franchise's 100th anniversary in 2000, Lurie produced a new acclaimed segment for each A's broadcast entitled, "A Century of A's Baseball." He researched the team's history, gathered data and conducted numerous interviews of former A's players and officials going back to Kansas City and Philadelphia.

Lurie has served as Sports Director of radio station KATD 990 AM in Concord . He has also co-hosted several sports talk shows, including: "1st and 10," "Inside Baseball," and "Sports Talk 2000." He currently has his own website—www.loveofthegameproductions.com—where he provides more insight into the game of baseball. Many of his memorable interviews are available for listening on the sight. Lurie also serves as a regular correspondent for mlb.com and MLB radio, providing interviews, game reports, and playoff coverage. His interviews are also featured on the MLB Player's Association website.

"We're excited to have Marty as the centerpiece of our Hot Stove Banquet," said Ports President Pat Filippone. "He'll bring lots of entertainment, as well as a vast knowledge of baseball, to our audience. We're looking forward to making this event a big success, and also continuing that success in years to come."

The Hot Stove Banquet will provide fans an opportunity to participate in a night of baseball, featuring both the keynote speaker and a silent auction of baseball memorabilia. The Ports will also be giving awards to top baseball and softball athletes from the community. The cost to attend the banquet is $45 per plate, and $400 for a table of 10. All proceeds raised from the event will benefit the Stockton Ports Anchor Fund, which aids many community projects, with a focus on youth centers and youth sports.

To purchase a ticket for the Hot Stove Banquet, or for more information, contact the Ports front office at (209) 644-1900.

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