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03/25/08 6:31 AM ET

Gonzalez still in mix for job

Although not in Japan, youngster has shot at center-field spot

TOKYO -- A's outfielder Carlos Gonzalez isn't in Japan, but thanks to his healing right hamstring and Oakland's issues in center field, he's still in the mix.

Gonzalez, a 21-year-old widely regarded as the top prospect among the six acquired by Oakland in the offseason deal that sent ace Dan Haren to the Diamondbacks, was among the three inactive players listed on the 28-man roster submitted before the first game of the Japan Opening Series 2008 against the Red Sox at Tokyo Dome on Tuesday.

Currently in Phoenix, working his way back to full strength after suffering a strained hamstring a week before Oakland left for the Far East, Gonzalez played five innings in a Minor League game Monday and was scheduled to play seven innings Tuesday. He'll rejoin the A's when they take on the Giants, Friday through Sunday, for the annual preseason Bay Bridge Series.

"All the reports we've gotten [indicate] that he's doing great," A's assistant general manager David Forst said. "He should be able to play in San Francisco. It allows us a couple of extra days to evaluate."

Because the trip to Tokyo included two exhibition games against Japanese pro teams, the A's and Red Sox were allowed to bring 30 players and have all of them eligible to play in the exhibitions. Prior to Tuesday's game, however, the teams had to trim the roster to 28 (with the three inactives), and they'll have to trim it to a hard-and-fast 25 before the A's host the Red Sox in their U.S. opener on April 1 at McAfee Coliseum.

It's a tad confusing, but here's the bottom line: You don't have to be in Japan to be on the "28-man" roster, but if you're not on it, you're not going to be on the 25-man roster come April 1.

Gonzalez, therefore, could very well be in Oakland next week with the A's, who went to camp hoping Chris Denorfia would claim the starting center-field job. Denorfia batted .244 during 15 Cactus League games, though, and while he was among the 25 active players on the 28-man roster set Tuesday, he wasn't in the starting lineup.

That honor went to Ryan Sweeney, a 23-year-old acquired in the offseason deal that sent Nick Swisher to the White Sox. Sweeney, who had brief big league stints with Chicago in 2006 and '07, had never before been on an Opening Day roster.

"I was hoping it'd happen, but you never know," said Sweeney, who batted .225 in 15 Cactus League games but turned in a number of impressive defensive plays. "Starting is a bonus, definitely. It just feels good to have the team give you a chance."

Gonazlez batted .360 in 12 Cactus League games and flashed an impressive package of all-around skills.

"He's got a lot of talent," said A's manager Bob Geren. "He does a lot of things well."

Geren wouldn't commit to anything regarding center field beyond Tuesday's starting lineup, noting that Sweeney got the nod over Denorfia in part because Sweeney is a left-handed hitter and the Red Sox were starting righty Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Oakland's skipper did finally commit to rookie lefty Dana Eveland as one of his five starters to open the season, though. Also part of the Haren haul, Eveland started the first exhibition game here and was one of the inactives on the 28-man roster. Righty Justin Duchscherer, who started the second exhibition, was the other.

After dancing around the semantics of naming Eveland his fifth starter, Geren was asked if Eveland would be his starting pitcher April 5, which is the first time the A's will need a starter not named Joe Blanton, Rich Harden or Duchscherer.

"We're planning on that, yes," Geren said.

As expected, Chad Gaudin, the team's other starter, was placed on the disabled list, along with righty reliever Kiko Calero and third baseman Eric Chavez. Gaudin, recovering from hip and foot surgeries, is expected to be activated before the A's will need a fifth starter for the first time, April 12. There are no timelines for the return of Calero (shoulder) or Chavez (back).

The three players who made the trip who were not on the 28-man roster are catcher Justin Knoedler and infielders Brooks Conrad and Gregorio Petit. Among those on the roster and active for Tuesday's game who likely are "on the bubble" as far as the final 25-man roster is concerned are lefty Dallas Braden, outfielder Jeff Fiorentino and infielder Dan Johnson.

Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.