Oakland A's Notes: Injuries, Rehabs & Debuts

The Oakland A's return home today after a rough roadtrip that saw the team drop seven of nine games and fall 1.5 back of the division-leading Angels. There were a few injuries during the trip. Two aren't expected to be serious, while the other might be season-ending. Fortunately for Oakland, there are reinforcements on the way. We take a look at those developments and Gregorio Petit's debut inside

The Oakland A's latest roadtrip took them through three cities, two time-zones, three divisions and two leagues. The trip began in Arlington, Texas, where the A's played three games against their division rivals, the Texas Rangers, who are suddenly red-hot. Texas took the first two games from the A's, but Oakland rebounded on Sunday to take the third game by the score of 12-6. The A's welcomed back Rich Harden in that game. He struggled in the win for the A's, but was dominant in his other outing on the trip in Atlanta on Saturday, a seven-inning, one-run performance that led to the A's only other win on the trip, a 5-4 victory over Tim Hudson and the Braves.

Oakland had a few injuries while away from home. Second baseman Mark Ellis injured his hamstring in the A's win in Texas and missed the remainder of the trip. He was able to avoid the disabled list and is expected back on the field when the A's return to Oakland today.

The injury news wasn't as good for reliever Santiago Casilla, who left Thursday's loss in Cleveland with pain in his right elbow after throwing one pitch. Although the severity of the injury has yet to be determined, there is fear that Casilla might be out for an extended period of time. He was placed on the disabled list on Friday.

Taking Casilla's place on the roster was infielder Gregorio Petit, who was added for the A's series in Atlanta to provide depth in the infield and another fast runner off of the bench. Petit got the start in the Sunday game against the Braves when back-up infielder Donnie Murphy was scratched with a sore elbow. Petit responded by reaching base three times in his major-league debut. He walked in his first at-bat, singled in his second AB for his first major-league hit, and then doubled to center in his third at-bat before striking out on a questionable called-strike in his fourth trip to the plate.

Everyone in the organization was excited to see Petit promoted to the big leagues. The Venezuelan native has been in the A's system since 2001, when he was signed as an international free agent at age 16. Petit has steadily climbed through every level of the A's system, improving his approach at the plate and his range in the middle infield at every level.

"I called [Petit] on Friday and he was so excited. Just to talk to him was great. It is such a thrill, especially for our Latin coaches. People don't recognize the coaches who had him as a young kid. There is a pride factor for the coaches and for the scout, Julio Franco, who signed him in seeing what kind of player he has become," Keith Lieppman, the A's director of player development, said on Saturday.

"To finally get that step into the big leagues with a kid who they saw as a really young player, and to look at him now and remember how far he has come and what obstacles he had to overcome to get here, is pretty special. He's made a lot of adjustments along the way with swing and his defense. Those are the really good stories, the feel-good stories."

Petit is the first graduate of the A's Latin program to make his major-league debut with the organization since 2004 when Casilla debuted.

"For the Latin program, in general, it was a big positive. To finally get another guy in the big leagues is a big achievement," Lieppman said.

Despite the losing record on the roadtrip, the A's pitching staff has continued to perform well. Oakland is second in the AL in team ERA with a 3.38 mark. The A's were swept by Cleveland in three games on the trip, but the pitching staff allowed only 10 runs in the series. The A's offense, however, has struggled in recent games. In the A's seven losses on the trip, the team scored only 10 runs and was shut-out three times.

Fortunately for Oakland, there are a few reinforcements on the horizon. Third baseman Eric Chavez is working his way back into playing shape with the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats. He has been sidelined all year after having three off-season surgeries to correct soreness in his shoulders and back. Chavez has appeared in three games as a DH for the River Cats over the past four days. He is 4-10 with three extra-base hits. On Sunday, Chavez had a long homerun to left-center field in his first at-bat.

"I told him that when I have watched him on TV, when he has been healthy and swinging well, he was hitting opposite-field homeruns. So that was a good sign to see him drive the ball to left-center field," Sacramento manager Todd Steverson said after Sunday's game.

"It shows you that he is starting to get back into form, in my opinion. Basically, he's a professional hitter and he's done this for years. It's just a matter of him being completely healthy before he can go back there and help our parent club."

Chavez is expected to test his back by playing in the field at some point during the River Cats' series versus Colorado Springs. The A's don't want Chavez to return to Oakland until he can play third base without discomfort. He is eligible to return on May 27th, but he could extend his rehab past that date to ensure that his back is completely healthy.

Outfielder Chris Denorfia could also be close to returning for the A's. He has begun a rehab assignment with Sacramento. Denorfia is on the DL with back soreness. He appeared in the River Cats' game on Saturday as the DH and went 0-3 with a run scored. Denorfia is hitting .260 with six RBIs for Oakland in 25 games this season.

The A's offense could also receive a boost from a healthy and productive Travis Buck, who is trying to recapture his swing with Sacramento. Buck got off to a horrible start to the season with Oakland, batting only .154 in his first 15 games with the A's. He was also hampered by shin splints and wrist soreness, which caused him to land on the DL in early May. Buck was originally assigned to Sacramento on a rehab assignment, but he was optioned to Triple-A so that he could concentrate on playing at that level everyday and getting back in rhythm at the plate.

Buck had a five-game hitting streak for Sacramento from May 9-13, during which he went nine-for-23 with two doubles and a homer. Since then, however, he is only one-for-15. Lieppman isn't overly concerned about Buck's struggles this season, however.

"I think the injury factor has been a huge part of [Buck's struggles], the fact that he really didn't get to play consistently this season. I would say that if he stays healthy and can be in the line-up everyday and get consistent at-bats, that will be what he needs to get back [to the majors]. He's a good enough player where the struggles will take care of themselves with playing time," Lieppman said.

Reliever Kiko Calero is also on the rehab trail. Like Chavez, Calero is on the 60-day DL and is eligible to return on May 27th. He has made four appearances for the River Cats thus far. On Thursday, he was roughed up for two runs in only one-third of an inning, as he walked three and allowed a hit. He recovered on Sunday to throw 1.2 scoreless innings. He struck-out two and walked one and allowed a single in the outing, his longest since joining Sacramento. Calero's fastball hit 89 MPH on Sunday.

"[Calero] pitched a lot better than Thursday. His fastball command was a lot better than it was that day. He was a little inconsistent with his breaking ball, but he's coming back from an injury and he just needs innings to get sharp," Steverson said on Sunday.

"I thought he did a good job of bouncing back from [that outing on Thursday]. He had two days off to strengthen himself back up and he looked good."

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