Baseball

‘Dash Brothers’ and pitching keys for A’s

There was a time when the Oakland A’s were a long-ball hitting bunch. They had a motley crew of mashers such as Jason Giambi and Matt Stairs in the late 1990s. Before that, they had the infamous Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco in the late 1980s and early ’90s – a pair dubbed the Bash Brothers.

Heading into the 2010 season, it’s clear that the current version of the A’s won’t be doing much bashing. Instead their best hope for providing enough offense for success is going to be by doing a lot of dashing.

These are the new-look A’s.

“It should be pitching and defense and baserunning,” manager Bob Geren said about his team’s strengths.

Which of the three is the strongest?

It could be the pitching, with one major caveat – health.

The A’s come into the season relying on a pair of pitchers who didn’t throw a single pitch last season.

Free agent and opening day starter Ben Sheets and two-time All-Star Justin Duchscherer head into the season proclaiming themselves to be 100 percent healthy. Both missed all of last season recovering from arm surgeries.

If they are healthy, they could make the rotation special. Sheets was a four-time All-Star with the Milwaukee Brewers but has been plagued by injuries in his last four seasons. He signed a $10 million contract in the offseason to be the ace of the staff. Sheets has had some rough moments this spring, including his second outing, in which he gave up 10 runs without getting an out.

“You’re going to have bad days,” he said afterward.

Duchscherer knows about bad days. While he was recovering from elbow surgery, he also battled depression and the desire to give up the game.

“Last year, I went through a lot of stuff off the field, and there was one point I thought I might never play again,” he said. “... Some of the things I’ve dealt with in my personal life have allowed me to come to the field with a different positive attitude and to cherish it while I’m here. I really appreciate the opportunity to be in the game now.”

While the A’s hope Sheets and Duchscherer come back, they are also hoping the three young pitchers – Dallas Braden, Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill – who started all of last season will take a step forward.

Predictably, all three had up-and-down moments last season, but there were signs of potential as well. In his final 12 starts, Anderson was 6-3 with a 3.68 ERA, while Braden pitched six or more innings in 18 of the 22 games he started.

The A’s are going to need solid pitching because run support isn’t going to be abundant.

“We’ll have to scratch and fight for as many runs as we can and win close games,” Geren said. “We’re probably not going to lead the league in homers.”

Indeed, the A’s finished last in the major leagues in homers last season with 135. Only one player on the roster, Jack Cust, has legitimate 25-plus home run potential.

Instead, the A’s will do it with speed and singles, using the speedy duo of Coco Crisp and Rajai Davis at the top of the order to ignite the offense on the basepaths.

Crisp had his 2009 season cut short with the Royals because of injuries, but he has averaged 27 stolen bases a season in his eight-year career. Davis stole 41 bases in 125 games last season – the most for Oakland since Rickey Henderson stole 66 in 1998

“If we allow ourselves to play the little man’s game as far as running the bases and opening that up for us, it will make us a lot better,” Crisp said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

2009 record/finish: 75-87, fourth place

Manager: Bob Geren (fourth season)

Key additions: RHP Ben Sheets, OF Coco Crisp, 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff, INF Jake Fox, INF Adam Rosales, OF Gabe Gross, RHP Edwar Ramirez

Key losses: INF Bobby Crosby, INF Nomar Garciaparra, INF Adam Kennedy, RHP Santiago Casilla, OF Aaron Cunningham, OF Scott Hairston

Outlook: The A’s knew they were going to take some lumps last season by rolling out a starting rotation that was loaded with youngsters. But it could pay dividends this season. Offensively, the addition of Crisp to go with Rajai Davis at the top of the order gives them high-quality speed and base-stealing capabilities, while Kouzmanoff adds a little bit of pop to a lineup in need of it.

Player to watch: 1B Eric Chavez. It’s tough to remember the last time Chavez was 100 percent healthy. But he made it through spring without any issues. He’ll play first base to save wear on his body while platooning with Daric Barton. But any sort of production and leadership from Chavez will be welcome.

Will win the West if: Sheets and Justin Duchscherer can get healthy and stay healthy for the season.

LineupBAHRRBI

CFCoco Crisp.228314

LFRajai Davis.305348

RFRyan Sweeney.293653

3BKevin Kouzmanoff.2551888

1BEric Chavez*.10001

CKurt Suzuki.2741588

DHJack Cust.2402570

2BMark Ellis.263 1061

SSCliff Pennington.279421

Rotation W-LERA

RHPBen Sheets DNP

LHPDallas Braden8-93.89

RHPJustin Duchscherer DNP

LHPBrett Anderson11-114.06

RHPTrevor Cahill10-134.63

CloserSaves ERA

RHPAndrew Bailey262.60

* Played in eight games before injury

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