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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 21, 2010

Athletics open camp with recovering pitchers

Advertiser Staff

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Oakland Athletics catcher Kurt Suzuki, left, talks with pitcher Jerry Blevins after Blevins threw off the mound during baseball spring training in Phoenix today. Suzuki is a Baldwin High alum from Maui.

ERIC RISBERG | Associated Press

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PHOENIX Ben Sheets and Justin Duchscherer didn't pitch in the majors last season. Now, they're expected to anchor the Oakland Athletics' rotation.

Sheets had right elbow surgery last February. Duchscherer had problems with his elbow, hip and back, then was sidelined with clinical depression.

"I have been throwing every day," Sheets said Saturday, when Oakland's pitchers and catchers reported to spring training. "I threw a bullpen a couple of days ago and I'm throwing another one tomorrow. When you're 31 and coming off surgery you start slow and build yourself up."

A's manager Bob Geren said there are no restrictions on either of them and he expects Sheets to return to the form that made him a four-time All-Star with the Milwaukee Brewers.

"Ben is right on. I caught him one time and he was bringing it," Geren said. "The last couple of fastballs he threw came at me in a hurry."

The A's are confident Sheets, who had six stints on the disabled list before the operation, has a clean bill of health. The pitcher said he feels good.

"The big key is staying healthy," he said. "I'm confident I'll have the two pitches I need come April. I've thrown the same two pitches, a fastball and a curve, since I was 11 years old. I believe in location and having a breaking ball to go with the fastball. I've tried to learn the cutter and the change but they both end up looking the same."

Duchscherer was on schedule until he came to camp Saturday with lower back stiffness. Geren said the two-time All-Star threw a 20-pitch bullpen session Friday and reported soreness the next morning.

Top reliever Joey Devine also missed last season and is expected to become an important part of a bullpen that includes closer Andrew Bailey, the AL Rookie of the Year, and former closer Brad Ziegler.

Devine appeared in two spring training games last year before undergoing ligament replacement surgery on his right elbow. He also threw off a mound Friday and seems to be on track.

In addition, left-hander Josh Outman and right-hander Vin Mazzaro missed significant time with injuries. Outman had Tommy John surgery on June 30 and Mazzaro sustained a shoulder injury that ended his season in late August.

Outman is on track to return by the All-Star break and is using Devine's recovery as a measuring stick.

"He had the same kind of surgery as me and I can see where he is at," Outman said. "He's about four months ahead of me. Right now I'm on a modified throwing program. I hope to get a couple of simulated games in before the team breaks camp. That would be the ideal situation for me to return by midseason."

Mazzaro said he began his throwing program six weeks ago.

"I wanted to come in ready, healthy and feeling strong," he said.

NOTES: RHP Henry Rodriguez and C Joel Galarraga are dealing with visa issues. Rodriguez is expected to report on Tuesday, while Galarraga is still working on his problem. ... Grady Fuson, former A's scouting director, returned to the team as a special adviser to baseball operations. Fuson, who began his career as an area scout with Oakland in 1982, spent 19 seasons with the A's organization, including the last seven years as scouting director (1995-2001). Most recently, he served as vice president of scouting and player development with San Diego from 2006-09 after joining the Padres in 2005 as a special assistant to the general manager.