Four-run inning, Duchscherer fuel A's
Starter brilliant for five-plus before leaving with arm issue
OAKLAND -- The A's moved former All-Star reliever Justin Duchscherer into their starting rotation this year in part because they'd hoped more of a regular routine would keep him healthy.
Duchscherer was all for it, too, and after a pain-free spring he made his 2008 debut Friday night, making it look easy for five shutout innings -- two hits, one walk -- to set up a 6-3 victory by the A's in the opener of a three-game series against the visiting Indians.
While delivering one of his pitches in the fifth, however, Duchscherer felt something go wrong in his right biceps. After a quick trip to the mound from manager Bob Geren, Duchscherer went back to work and rolled a double play to end the inning, hoping what he'd felt was a cramp.
It wasn't. Duchscherer, who tested his arm with a few tosses in the indoor batting cage while the A's were batting in the bottom of the fifth, left the game after giving up back-to-back singles to open the sixth and running a 2-0 count on Asdrubal Cabrera.
His mood after the game was as dark as the black "alternate" jerseys that Oakland donned for the first time since 2000.
"I was thinking, 'Please don't be hurt,'" Duchscherer said. "That's the last thing I wanted to happen. ... It's extremely frustrating."
The A's announced the injury as "slight biceps tendinitis," but Geren and Duchscherer both said it was a strain. And while Geren said Duchscherer is "officially listed as day to day," Duchscherer certainly didn't sound encouraged about the prospect of making his next turn on Wednesday in Toronto.
"It could take a little bit of time, I don't know," he said.
Duchscherer, whose 2007 season ended with hip surgery in early June, was fairly sure that his latest ailment -- he's also been sidelined with elbow tendinitis and back issues in recent years -- isn't related to the hip.
"I don't think so," he said. "It seems like it's one of those freak things, which seems to happen to me quite often. ... The hip hasn't been an issue for a long time. I don't even think about it anymore."
Before the injury, Duchscherer looked like he'd be able to go all night and reward the announced crowd of 13,916 for their loyalty. He set the tone with a 10-pitch first, and five of his six strikeouts came on called third strikes. He'd only thrown 72 pitches when he walked off the mound in the sixth to a standing ovation.
"His performance was outstanding," Geren said. "Pinpoint control, command ... he pitched the way we thought he'd pitch as a starter."
By the time he took the mound for the sixth, Duchscherer has a 5-0 lead courtesy of a second-inning passed ball by Indians catcher Kelly Shoppach and a four-run rally that Oakland cobbled together in the bottom of the fifth.
Daric Barton's leadoff single was immediately followed by an infield error, a single by Jack Cust, and an RBI by Bobby Crosby on a grounder to second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera, who threw home too late to force Barton. Jack Hannahan followed with a sacrifice fly before Kurt Suzuki and Ryan Sweeney capped the flurry with RBI singles to chase Indians starter Paul Byrd.
"It kind of shows that when one guys gets hits, everyone gets hits," said Sweeney, who had a career-high three hits with three rocket singles his first three at-bats before adding an infield single in his fourth.
Like Barton and several other Athletics, Sweeney went into the game looking to get untracked offensively. The team's batting average through its first four games was .183. Barton, who was batting .077 through Thursday, went 2-for-4 with a walk.
"He got some hits and we just kind of followed," Sweeney said. "Everybody'll be fine. We have a lot of good hitters in here."
Santiago Casilla inherited Duchscherer's 2-0 count to Cabrera, who walked to load the bases, but just as he did after coming in with the bases loaded and nobody out Wednesday against the Red Sox, Casilla minimized the damage.
The Indians scored on a double-play grounder before Casilla struck out Travis Hafner. The Tribe made it 5-2 on Ryan Garko's solo homer off Keith Foulke in the seventh, but the A's answered in their half when Crosby led off with a double and eventually scored on a wild pitch. Hafner capped the scoring with a solo homer off Huston Street.
It was the third long ball Street has allowed in three outings, but Geren didn't want any part of any topic that even remotely diluted the thrill of victory.
Might leadoff man Travis Buck (0-for-18 this year) and No. 2 hitter Mark Ellis (1-for-17) get dropped in the order? Will Sweeney, the left-handed hitter in a platoon with Chris Denorfia, get a chance to stay hot with a start against Indians lefty C.C. Sabathia on Saturday? Who gets the ball if Duchscherer can't go next week?
Geren wouldn't say. What he did say was, "I'm still enjoying tonight's win."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.