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Notes: Blanton hits trouble head-on

A's notes: Blanton fends off trouble

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SAN FRANCISCO -- For Joe Blanton, the innings in which he encountered trouble on Sunday were the most telling.

The first three innings of the A's right-hander's final tuneup for the regular season, against the Giants at AT&T Park, were a breeze, with one hit allowed and the minimum number of batters faced. Then came the fourth, when Blanton allowed a single to Randy Winn and an RBI triple to Ray Durham to open the inning.

Blanton escaped further damage after yielding a run-scoring groundout to Lance Niekro.

In the fifth, a leadoff walk and a hit failed to faze Blanton -- he gave up a run when Winn beat out what might have been an inning-ending double play.

Those two innings in a 70-pitch afternoon seemed like the truest indication of Blanton's readiness for the season.

"You don't ever want to be in those situations," Blanton said after the A's 5-3 victory. "But you can build some confidence from getting out of them."

With the exception of Opening Day starter Barry Zito, every member of Oakland's rotation enjoyed strong finishes to Spring Training. That was definitely true of Blanton, whose only two exhibition victories were recorded in his last two starts. He had a 3.75 ERA in that span.

After going 0-3 with a 9.58 ERA over his first four Cactus League starts, Blanton started a Minor League exhibition game in hopes of figuring out his mechanics in a low-pressure setting.

The outing helped enough that he appeared back in form during a strong six-inning performance against Texas last Tuesday, and he managed to carry that momentum into Sunday's game.

The steady drizzle that persisted throughout the game could be a precursor to Blanton's first start, on Friday at Seattle's Safeco Field. "It was nice to get in a little colder weather," he said. "Well, I shouldn't say nice."

But his performance in the fourth and fifth innings stood out to A's manager Ken Macha.

"Those could have been huge innings," Macha said. "I thought it was good from the standpoint of pitching out of jams."

The spot starter: When left-hander Brad Halsey learned of his trade to the A's from Arizona on March 26, he was told to stay put in Tucson, where the Diamondbacks train. The A's were headed there to play the next day.

"We told him, 'You stay there, we'll bring the jersey to you,' " Macha recalled Sunday.

spring training 2006
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It's been a sort of whirlwind week for Halsey, who has benefited from a gloomy forecast. If rain forces the A's to play a doubleheader against the Yankees this week, as widely expected, then they will need a spot starter on Saturday in Seattle. Thus the A's deviated from their original plan to carry 11 pitchers, creating room on the roster for Halsey.

The A's haven't had much time to evaluate Halsey while wearing their jersey -- he threw a perfect seventh inning on Sunday -- but Macha noted that he has been impressed with the 25-year-old since seeing him in Spring Training last year.

Halsey will also be available out of the bullpen through Wednesday in case a doubleheader taxes the pitching staff.

Whither the weather? The A's continued to brace for the possibility of an Opening Day rainout -- as of Sunday afternoon, the National Weather Service forecast called for a 60 percent chance of rain in Oakland at game time on Monday.

While the rainy weather that has plagued the Bay Area over the last month has been record-setting, and the A's have had only 19 rainouts in their 38-year history at McAfee Coliseum, Macha wondered one thing.

"When you open up on the East Coast, they always plan [an off-day after Opening Day] so that they can keep the Opening Day gate," he said. "We don't have an off-day here to protect us from that."

Briefly: The A's suggested using the designated hitter for Sunday's game so that Frank Thomas could get in a few more preseason at-bats. The Giants agreed, knowing it would give Barry Bonds the same opportunity. Thomas went 0-for-2 with a walk and finished his abbreviated spring with two hits in 12 at-bats. ... During the three-game Bay Bridge Series with the Giants, the A's batted .292 (31-for-106) and scored 23 runs. ... The A's concluded the exhibition season 15-17.

Edward de la Fuente is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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