When it was announced on Thursday that Dan Johnson would miss the start of the season, it appeared that Erubiel Durazo had a great chance of making the A's Opening Day roster as the team's starting first baseman. However, when the team inked infielder Todd Walker to a minor league contract the next day, Durazo's spot on the roster became less certain.
On Saturday, the team made it official, releasing their former DH. The A's also sent down catcher Kurt Suzuki and middle infielder Donnie Murphy to minor league camp. Both are expected to play at Triple-A Sacramento this season.
Durazo started off red-hot in spring camp, but he struggled over the last few weeks. He also made an error on Thursday night. The A's never seemed completely sold on the idea that Durazo would be able to play first base on a day-to-day basis. Dan Johnson had won the starting first base job over Durazo before getting hurt during the final week of camp.
When the team signed Walker, it was with the idea that he could play a lot of first base. Originally a second baseman, Walker has been playing more frequently at first base in recent years. He played 40 games at first in 2006.
If the A's decide to carry 12 pitchers, then it would appear that the final position player roster spot will be determined between Walker, top prospect Travis Buck and utilityman Lou Merloni. They are the final three non-roster invitees left with the team.
Merloni can play both corner outfield positions and every infield position except catcher, while Walker can play at second, first and third. Buck is a corner outfielder only, although he did play first in high school and some in college. If the team were to keep Buck on the roster, it would likely be with the thought that he would start everyday in right-field, while Walker and Merloni might be used more as role or platoon players.
The A's received some good news regarding their outfield depth on Saturday, as both Bobby Kielty and Milton Bradley returned to live action. Both had been bothered by minor ailments, but both appear set to be ready for Opening Day.
The same can not necessarily be said for starting pitcher Esteban Loaiza, who failed to take his turn on the mound for the third time in two weeks. He has been bothered by a sore right shoulder blade and he could start the season on the disabled list. If he has to go on the DL, he could be replaced in the rotation by left-handers Brad Halsey or Lenny DiNardo or by right-hander Chad Gaudin.
Gaudin, for now, is a long-shot to enter the rotation, as he is currently slated to be a set-up man in the A's bullpen. However, he has started his last two spring games and has been stretched out to roughly 75 pitches, which would be enough for him to make at least a spot start next week versus Anaheim.
A's Release Two More
In addition to the eight minor league players we reported as being released last week, the A's have released two more players from minor league camp: left-hander Derek Thompson and right-hander Jose Corchado.
Thompson was signed as a minor league free agent in the off-season. He was attempting a comeback from his second Tommy John procedure, but saw only minimal time during major league spring training camp.
Corchado, a Puerto Rican native, was selected in the 18th round of the 2002 draft. The soon-to-be 23 year old is a hard thrower, but he struggled with his command during much of his career. He split last season between Stockton and the A's Rookie League team in Arizona.