Notes: Buck watching Sun Devils
A's outfielder keeps track of alma mater in NCAA playoffs
OAKLAND -- With the NCAA baseball regional tournaments starting June 1, Major League players will start to watch scoreboards from the run to the College World Series, paying special attention to their respective alma maters.
One of those players is A's outfielder Travis Buck.
Buck, who went to Arizona State University from 2003-2005, is keeping an eye on his Sun Devils.
"I still talk to [head coach] Pat Murphy quite a bit," Buck said Monday before the opener of a three-game series against the visiting Rangers at McAfee Coliseum. "There are still a couple of guys on the team that were freshmen when I was a junior, so I have been following the team. It's pretty exciting."
The Sun Devils just grabbed a top seed and are hosting a regional. There are eight top seeds and ASU is the fifth overall seed.
Buck played in the CWS as a junior, making the All-Tournament team. ASU came within a game of reaching the championship series.
After shooting through the Minors, bypassing Triple-A, Buck has been a fixture in the A's lineup. A middle-of-the-order guy throughout most of his career, he batted in the No. 2 hole for the second night in a row against Texas on Monday, and he's batted leadoff twice this year.
"I batted leadoff a couple of times in college, so I'm fine there," Buck said. "I batted second, third and fourth in the Minors. Where I bat is just a number. If it's higher up in the order, then I can get a few extra at-bats.
"The key is they don't want me to change my game."
Johnson staying hot: Since coming off the disabled list April 25, first baseman Dan Johnson has been a godsend to Oakland's injury-ravaged offense, batting .327 with five home runs and 18 RBIs heading into the Texas series.
He'd hit safely in 23 of the 29 games he played and had a 15-game hitting streak from April 28 to May 15, with 4-for-4 and 3-for-4 performances during the streak.
"He's played almost every day since coming back, and it's been a real boost to the team," A's manager Bob Geren said.
Johnson started the year on the DL with torn cartilage in his left hip, and coupled with his struggles last season, no one was exactly sure what to expect. He hit .234 in 91 games last season after hitting .275 with 15 home runs in 109 games the year before.
"I think the difference is he's using the whole field," Geren said. "He has always been a good handler of the strike zone, and when he was struggling, he wasn't using the whole field."
Getting healthy in a hurry: The A's have been starving for positive injury news all season, and some was dispensed Monday. Outfielders Mark Kotsay and Milton Bradley and setup man Justin Duchscherer could be back in uniform by the end of this week.
Duchscherer threw a perfect inning for the Class A Stockton Ports on Sunday, and if all goes well, he could be available to the A's by Wednesday.
The same goes for Bradley, who was out testing his hamstring before batting practice and said he felt good.
Kotsay continues to rehab his back with Triple-A Sacramento and appears to be on schedule for activation Friday. He played in the Rivercats' Monday game in Colorado Springs, going 1-for-5.
"I talked to him and he's going to be ready to go Friday," Geren said. "There shouldn't be anything holding him back."
When everyone gets back, it could make for a crowded outfield, with Shannon Stewart, Nick Swisher, Buck, Kotsay and Bradley, but Geren is looking at this as a good problem.
"I'm looking forward to having all those great players at the same time," he said. "I'll do my best to keep everyone in there. I don't have an exact way of doing it yet."
Also getting healthier are designated hitter Mike Piazza, closer Huston Street and starter Esteban Loiaza.
Piazza, who injured his shoulder in Boston in early May, is about two weeks from being cleared for baseball activities.
Street, who has been sidelined since May 13 with irritation in the ulnar nerve in the elbow of his throwing arm, hasn't thrown since being sidelined, but Geren said he might be cleared to do so soon.
Loaiza made his second rehab start with Sacramento on Sunday, giving up two runs in four innings in Colorado Springs. He will make another start in Sacramento on Friday against Albuquerque.
Meanwhile, righty Rich Harden, whose throwing program was stopped during the last homestand, played catch before Monday's game.
Up next: A's lefty Lenny DiNardo (1-1, 1.83 ERA) will take the ball opposite Rangers righty Mike Wood (0-1, 7.02 ERA) in Tuesday's game in Oakland. The first pitch is set for 7:05 p.m. PT.
Matt Smith is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.