A's Thinking About Playing For Now?

Smith has been impressive for the A's.

It began in spring training and has carried over into the first two weeks of the regular season. The Oakland A's, picked by many to be in last place in the American League West, are playing well behind a mix of young players and savvy veterans. With the team in first place, are the A's starting to think about winning now?

Does Oakland's fast start have the team thinking shorter term and looking to contend this year? It's possible, if Monday's decision to designate Rule 5 draftee Fernando Hernandez is any indication.

The A's carried a Rule 5 pick, Jay Marshall, in their bullpen all of 2007, and it was thought that with the team in a youth movement this season, it would be more likely to stash a Rule 5 player on the roster all season.

Instead, the club opted for immediate help. The A's brought up experienced right-hander Kirk Saarloos on Monday to provide some bullpen depth with long man Lenny DiNardo joining the rotation while Rich Harden is on the disabled list.

Hernandez, 23, got the win in his first major league appearance last week in Toronto, but he hit a batter and walked another Friday and gave up four runs in two innings on Sunday. He spent 2007 at Double-A, and it appears he might benefit from Triple-A.

"We'd used Fernando a couple of innings (Sunday) and needed a little more length in the bullpen and figured Kirk was the guy," Oakland assistant general manager David Forst said.

"We liked what we saw from Fernando, he was just not a fit for what we needed. ... He just needs a little more time."

Forst said that if Hernandez clears waivers, the A's will talk to the White Sox, so it's possible they might try to swing a deal to keep the reliever.

The A's fast start to the season (the team is 9-5 through Monday) is especially impressive when one considers that the team has already seen three of its top starters spend time on the disabled list (Chad Gaudin, Rich Harden and Justin Duchscherer). In addition, the A's are still without their best player, Eric Chavez, and one of their top relievers: Kiko Calero. And top slugger Jack Cust has yet to get on-track for the A's.

Oakland emphasized that they had added a lot of depth this off-season and it has already come into play. Starter Greg Smith and relievers Joey Devine and Saarloos have already been recalled from Triple-A to cover for the injured starters. Smith has been outstanding in his two starts for the A's (both Oakland wins) and Devine earned a win in an extra-innings game on Thursday.

With Carlos Gonzalez and Gio Gonzalez (the A's top position and pitching prospects at Triple-A) both playing well in Sacramento, Oakland may feel that they have the depth that alluded them last year to make a run in a year where the American League West doesn't appear as strong as in past seasons.

A'S 2, WHITE SOX 1: Left-hander Greg Smith, who is filling in for Justin Duchscherer in the rotation, might be a keeper for the A's. Smith, who is drawing comparisons with Kenny Rogers and Tom Glavine, allowed six hits, a walk and one run in seven innings at Chicago, and he struck out four and picked off two runners. He gave up three runs in the first inning of his first start last week, but throw those out and he has allowed one run in 12 innings overall. Kurt Suzuki had a career-high four hits for Oakland and drove in the A's first run, and Mike Sweeney scored both Oakland runs.

A's Notes
--C Kurt Suzuki recorded a career-high four hits. He has reached base safely in all 13 games he has played this year. He had entered Monday's game in a 1-for-13 funk that dropped his average from .414 to .310.

--3B Jack Hannahan has not started the past three games in which the A's have faced a left-hander, but manager Bob Geren said that Hannahan is not in a platoon with Donnie Murphy, and he said he planned to use Murphy "everywhere in the infield." Hannahan, who is batting .167 against left-handers and right-handers, is working with hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo on opening his stance up and shortening his path to the ball.

--DH Mike Sweeney has not struck out in 51 plate appearances this season. Fully healthy after several years of back and knee injuries, the veteran is hitting .300 over the past eight games. He scored both of Oakland's runs on Monday night.

--SS Bobby Crosby's streak of reaching base in every game this season ended on Sunday, but he picked up Oakland's first hit at Chicago on Monday. He's hitting .310 on Oakland's 6-1 trip.

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