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Oakland A’s sign Brett Tomko, Jason Jennings to minor league contracts

The A’s were right to push their workout time back a few hours today, but they still can’t escape the rain. It’s coming down pretty good right now, and pitchers were playing catch but just headed indoors.

The position players went over to Papago to get in some batting practice. Then later today, they’ll return to Phoenix Muni for some live BP, assuming the rain lets up. Not sure that’s gonna happen …

Anyway, on to the day’s news …

The A’s signed pitchers Brett Tomko and Jason Jennings to minor league contracts. You’re familiar w/Tomko from his stellar work in Oakland last year. He’s still rehabbing the irritated nerve in his right arm and will report to A’s minor league camp. Bob Geren was told Tomko could be ready sometime in May.

Jennings, the 2002 NL Rookie of the Year, arrived at A’s camp this morning and said he’s ready to serve whatever role is available. Jennings was a starter with Colorado, Houston and in his first year in Texas in 2008, but the Rangers used him out of the ‘pen last year. Geren mentioned Jennings will be stretched out for possible starting, long relief or middle relief work. I’d consider him a right-handed version of Lenny DiNardo, a swingman who can fill in as needed. Jennings said he’s recovered from elbow problems that plagued him from 2006-08.

Wow, the rain is coming down hard and it looks nasty out there. I think I’m in Phoenix but it could be Seattle …

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A’s hold first full-squad workout; Rickey Henderson showing up tomorrow

Not a ton to report as A’s take the field for first full-squad workout. The routine has been switched up this spring. Pitcher/catcher workouts were over at Phoenix Muni Stadium. The full squad will work out today through Monday at Papago, and then things shift back to Phoenix Muni starting Tuesday. …

–Rickey Henderson will show up tomorrow as a special instructor for base running and stay through Tuesday, we’ve been told. So if you want to catch a glimpse, he’s at Papago Saturday-Monday, and Muni on Tuesday. A’s manager Bob Geren said he wants anybody who might steal a base to work with Henderson. I had previously been told that Rickey would be here today. Sorry for any confusion …

–Geren gave his annual speech to the full squad before the first workout. He stressed the offseason additions that he believes have made the club better, and the strong second-half stretch the A’s had last season. “Everybody in our division got better. It’s going to be a competitive, tight division.”

Commenting on the vibe surrounding his club right now, Geren added: “I think expectations are up with everybody.”

–Unlike past offseasons, Geren didn’t brainstorm possible lineups or batting orders. He knew there was a chance the A’s could continue adding players throughout the winter (which they did), so for a while he wasn’t sure what hand he’d be dealt. The up-in-the-air status of Eric Chavez also is a wild card. “I still really haven’t (thought about the lineup) too much. A lot is going to depend on Eric — how healthy he is and where he can play.”

The skipper did say he wants his speed guys at the top of the order (think Rajai and Coco, or vice versa).

–Pitchers are throwing live batting practice today. But on the first day, there usually aren’t many swings taken, as hitters are just getting used to tracking the ball from the pitcher’s hand to the glove. Still, every new wrinkle in the daily routine adds a bit of variety, so I’ll be checking it out. … I’ll blog or tweet anything good.

I’m at twitter.com/joestiglich

That’s all for now …

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Jack Cust, Kevin Kouzmanoff arrive; just about everybody present at A’s camp

Things were a little louder in the A’s clubhouse this morning, which of course meant that Jack Cust has reported to camp. On a team that’s pretty mild-mannered and subdued in general, Cust stands out as a rambunctious exception. And to think, over the winter it looked like Cust might not even be back in green and gold. The A’s didn’t tender him a contract, turning him loose to free agency. He said he received some interest, but the offers didn’t come pouring in. So he re-signed with the A’s for $2.65 million, or $150,000 less than he made last year. But he’s happy to be back. And he thinks the addition of Coco Crisp will bring more speed to the top of the lineup, lead to more base runners and perhaps discourage teams from playing the shift on him.

He and his wife, Jennifer, welcomed their second daughter, Sophia Lily, who was born last Wednesday. Cust usually shows up earlier to camp, but wanted to spend time with his new baby.

Kevin Kouzmanoff, the A’s new third baseman, also showed up and said he’s looking forward to his fresh start. He talked about the work he’s put in to improve his defense over the years, and is eager to get started with his new teammates.

I’ll have more on Kouzmanoff and Cust in tomorrow’s paper …

–Justin Duchscherer played catch to test out his lower back — 35 throws from 80 feet and he came out of it OK.

–Infielder Gregorio Petit and catcher Joel Galarraga are the only two players who have yet to show …

That’s all for now …

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Justin Duchscherer update

We just talked to Justin Duchscherer, who is still a bit dazed from the sedative for his surgery. He’s not even allowed to drive today. His fiance had to drop him off at the park. “I don’t feel anything. I feel great right now, just tired.” He was supposed to have the procedure to relieve pain in his sacroiliac joint Monday, but he was allergic to the sedative they were going to use. It was pushed back to Tuesday, and they had to give him a large-sized dose of Ativan to put him under. As a result, he’s done little more than sleep since yesterday afternoon.

He plans to come in tomorrow morning, get some treatment and see how he feels. He won’t rush getting back to throwing, but he’s hardly concerned about falling too far behind. “For me, it’s just a matter of getting out there. Once I get out there, things take care of themselves. … I’m not going to push myself. I’ve got six weeks.”

The procedure involved burning off the nerve endings in his SI joint (located very low in his back), where the pain was. Apparently, the nerve endings can grow back in as soon as six months, but he can get the procedure done as often as needed. And there’s no guarantee the nerve endings ever grow back and continue to bother him.

So there’s everything you ever needed to know about this topic, and I hope I never have to write about Duke’s SI joint (or anyone else’s) ever again. It can’t be all that exciting to read about either :) … Bottom line — he’ll start throwing when he feels able to, which shouldn’t be too long …

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A’s update: Justin Duchscherer, Lenny DiNardo and Michael Wuertz’s slider

Just a quick note on the morning’s activities:

–Rajai Davis showed up this morning, and it’s now easier to count which position players aren’t here yet as opposed to which ones are. Jack Cust and Kevin Kouzmanoff are two of the bigger names who have yet to make an appearance, but they should be rolling in by tomorrow, obviously, when everyone’s required to be here.

–Still no word on when Justin Duchscherer might crank up his throwing again, but Bob Geren said Duke is only one or two days behind as of today. Each day missed puts him a little further back though, so we’ll keep an eye on that. Maybe Duchscherer will be around later to shed some light.

–Something I wasn’t aware of when I wrote about Jake Fox in Tuesday’s notebook: Fox is out of minor league options. I had been led to believe he had options left. This definitely will make the roster battle more interesting. Fox appeared to have his work cut out to make the 25-man roster, but if the A’s want to send him to the minors, he first must be exposed to other teams through waivers (outfielder/second baseman Eric Patterson is in the same situation, and this can work to both players’ advantage in making the team). Of course, Eric Chavez’s health is always a big variable, and if he’s not ready, then Fox might be needed regardless.

–Left-hander Lenny DiNardo has been slowed by a strained arch in his left foot, but he said he felt a lot better today than yesterday. Don’t forget about this guy as a swingman option for this pitching staff. He was pretty serviceable in that role in 2008 for the A’s. I’m not saying I expect DiNardo to make a major run at a roster spot, but he’s a known quantity to the A’s. And if injuries linger with some guys, who knows?

–Once we got injury stuff out of the way, we actually got to talk baseball w/Geren. He was talking about Michael Wuertz’s slider, saying it’s unusual for a right-hander’s slider to be so effective against lefty hitters, as Wuertz’s is. Many right-handers start their sliders over the middle of the plate and break it toward a hitter’s feet. That leaves them vulnerable to the home run ball if they hang a pitch. Wuertz can work his slider that way, but he can also go back door, starting it outside and bringing it back in to catch the plate for called strikes. “It’s not only a good one, but he can locate it,” Geren said.

Geren gets fired up talking about this kind of stuff. Sometimes I believe he thinks the beat writers are only interested in injuries/negative news. We only hit him with injury stuff because we have to provide updates, especially on the big-name guys. Truth is, I like chatting w/him about the hard-core baseball stuff. It’s interesting, and Geren gets more animated talking about the inner workings of the game than anything else …

I guess my “quick note” wasn’t so quick after all!

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Eric Chavez works at first base, takes BP and addresses media; Duchscherer’s procedure goes well

Today’s workout ended up having more spice to it than expected, thanks to several everyday players who showed up for batting practice — Eric Chavez, Mark Ellis, Ryan Sweeney and Daric Barton were among those taking hacks in the cage and getting some defensive work.

Chavez was the main attraction, as he always is when he reports to camp. He took throws and fielded lots of grounders at first, getting drilled in some basics by infield coach Mike Gallego. Some highlights from his media chat:

–On learning to play first: “Whatever I do, I wanna do it so well. I just have to remember, I’m just taking ground balls, just with a bigger glove. The more times I get over there, the easier it will be.”

–He’s not crazy about using a first baseman’s mitt. “I’m getting two ready in case one of them fails me.”

–Manager Bob Geren said he wants Chavez to work strictly on his hitting and first base work for the time being. Chavez doesn’t believe he’ll need much time at third to be ready if needed there. He shagged a few balls in the outfield this afternoon, but said he was just getting some running in. “I have no restrictions. They asked me what I thought I needed to do, and I just told them to minimize my throwing.”

Although his troublesome back gets the most attention, you have to remember that Chavez’s twice-operated on right shoulder is also a big issue. That’s why fewer throws is better.

–In other news, Joey Devine threw 20 pitches today, but Geren listed his chances of being ready Opening Day as “50-50″.

–An A’s spokesperson said Justin Duchscherer’s procedure went well to relieve pain in the SI joint in his lower back. He’ll return to the team tomorrow, but no word on when he’ll resume throwing. The procedure was done at the Arizona Center for Pain Relief.

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A’s finally get a full workout in; Ben Sheets makes exhibition debut March 5

Ah yes, this is what the sun looks like. …

Nothing but blue sky over Phoenix Muni after three straight days of rain and gloom. A’s pitchers and catchers are on the field getting their first full workout in. Ryan Sweeney, Daric Barton and Travis Buck are among the position players to recently arrive. And from the press box, I believe I see Eric Chavez on the field, but he wasn’t in the clubhouse earlier. The full squad is due to report Thursday.

Here’s what you need to know from this morning:

–The A’s have Ben Sheets lined up to start their second exhibition, March 5, against the Brewers here in Phoenix. Just so happens he’ll be making his A’s debut against his former team. That part is coincidence. The important thing is by throwing that day, it will put him on a five-day schedule leading right up to Opening Night against Seattle. Actually, he’ll have one extra day of rest squeezed in among his Cactus League starts. Bob Geren said he wants to leave a little wiggle room in case Sheets has any soreness in his elbow.

–Geren said backup catcher Landon Powell won’t be seeing time at first base this year, as seemed possible. If Eric Chavez is healthy and Daric Barton hits as they hope, there won’t be innings for another guy at first. And let’s not forget Chris Carter is knocking on the door as well. But Powell produced in what few at-bats he got last year, and this is a lineup that will need some thump from any source it can find. I’ll have some reaction from Powell in tomorrow’s notebook …

–Newly acquired outfielder Coco Crisp was getting a kick out of Dallas Braden’s array of tattoos this morning in the clubhouse. Braden was lifting his shirt and rolling up his sleeves showing all the ink he’s got. It’s interesting to see how new guys like Crisp gradually mesh into a big league clubhouse. I suppose it’s like taking on any new job. You’re in unfamiliar surroundings, and pretty soon you feel like you belong …

I’ll post an update later if we get any news on how Justin Duchscherer’s procedure went on his lower back. Is it a procedure? Is it surgery? I’m not quite sure what the best word is to describe it. It’s more fun writing about baseball, I’ll tell you that …