02/25/2013 4:31 PM ET
Okajima relishes return to American mound
By Jane Lee / MLB.com
PHOENIX -- This wasn't his first rodeo, but in some ways it felt like it for Hideki Okajima.
The 37-year-old veteran reliever, making his unofficial A's debut against the Indians on Monday, stepped into American game action for the first time since May 2011, when he was wearing a Red Sox uniform.
Okajima issued a leadoff walk to Cleveland's Jason Giambi and later gave up a double to Cord Phelps, but he escaped his one inning of work unscathed and deemed it "a good outing" through his translator.
"Even though I'm a veteran, it's been awhile since I've been on an American mound, so I was a little bit nervous, but it turned out OK," said Okajima, signed by the A's this month to a Minor League deal with a chance to make the big league roster.
It was around this time last year Okajima prepared to join the Yankees, but a failed physical altered those plans, forcing the southpaw to return to his homeland, where "the ball's a little bit smaller, the mound's a little bit softer," he said.
"In that way I have to get used to the American game again," Okajima continued. "The fact that I couldn't throw last year with the Yankees, being able to pitch at all is a positive sign for me. I was afraid that I was never going to throw in America again, so even stepping on the mound is something special."
Balfour encouraged by continued progress
PHOENIX -- Grant Balfour's ahead of schedule, just as he planned.
The A's closer, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee just 11 days ago, did a round of flat-ground throwing on Monday morning and is hoping to throw a bullpen within the next week.
"My arm feels great," Balfour said. "My leg has a little bit further to come, but it's getting there."
Balfour estimated he made between 25 and 30 throws, something he'll do again in a day or two before evaluating how soon he can throw off a mound.
Should Balfour continue to progress without any setbacks, the right-hander could potentially enter Cactus League action in roughly two or three weeks, giving him plenty of time to make a handful of appearances before the regular season begins.
That falls right in line with the recovery timetable of four to six weeks that the A's projected when Balfour came out of surgery.
"The way I feel now is really encouraging," he said. "I told myself I wanted to be ready for the season, so I'm going to continue doing whatever it takes to get ready."
The A's won't let him rush the process, though.
"I saw him the other day trying to sneak in on a drill," manager Bob Melvin said, smiling.
Werner adding pitching depth for A's
PHOENIX -- The A's got their first look at one of the many goods they acquired this winter on Monday, when southpaw Andrew Werner took to the mound for two innings of work.
Facing the Indians, Werner looked shaky from the start, walking leadoff man Michael Bourn on four pitches. But he settled down nicely and escaped the inning having allowed just one unearned run before pitching a perfect second frame with a strikeout.
"I was erratic in the bullpen and erratic with the first hitter so I just tried to calm down a little bit," said Werner. "My body felt good, though. My stuff was just a little out of whack. But it being the first game of Spring Training you kind of expect it to be like that."
The A's have plenty time to see more of the 26-year-old Werner, brought to Oakland with infielder Andy Parrino from the Padres in exchange for right-hander Tyson Ross and Minor Leaguer A.J. Kirby-Jones last November.
Werner began his professional season just four years ago, when he pitched in the independent Frontier League. Then, following the 2010 season, he signed with the Padres organization and went 12-10 with a 3.46 ERA in 47 starts over the next two years in their farm system.
The club doesn't currently have room for Werner in its rotation, no matter how well he performs over the next few weeks. Still, the lefty wants to leave a good impression, since an injury or two at the big league level this season could prompt the A's to beckon for some of their depth in the Minors.
Werner, who compiled a 5.58 ERA in eight starts for the Padres last season, will be willing and ready to help when that time comes.
"I just approach this like I would anything else, trying to go out there and throw up zeroes, make it hard on the coaching staff," he said. "I understand we won the AL West last year, so you can't really expect to just come in and have a spot. You have to come in and compete for it, but that's good, because I think that brings out the best in you."
• Outfielder Chris Young, who exited Sunday's game after just one inning because of a quad cramp, won't play in another game until Wednesday, just as a precaution.
"We'll give him these days," Melvin said, "and make sure we get it completely taken care of."
• Oakland's 2012 first-round Draft pick, right-hander Sonny Gray, pitched two innings in Monday's affair with the Indians. He gave up a two-run homer to former A's player Matt Carson and walked a batter in his spring debut.
"He was maybe just a little jumpy," Melvin said. "Good stuff, though. Probably didn't throw it where he wanted to throw it today, but you can see the stuff. Once he harnesses his mechanics and throws the ball over the plate consistently, he's going to be good."
Gray, 23, is slated to start the season at Triple-A Sacramento.