Notes: Embree impressing ninth club

Notes: Embree impressing ninth club

PHOENIX -- By now, walking into a foreign clubhouse is old hat for new A's reliever Alan Embree. He's already played for eight different teams in the big leagues, so blending in with a ninth has been a breeze.

"I'm kind of a 'Have left arm, will travel' guy at this point," Embree said on Thursday at the A's Papago Park complex. "Some years, I'm a hired gun. Some years, I'm a castoff. It gets easier every time, because I've been around so long now that I know at least a couple guys in every clubhouse."

Now entering his 14th year in the bigs, Embree, 37, seems to be getting better with age. Last season with the Padres, he posted a 3.27 ERA in a career-high 73 games, and A's manager Bob Geren said on Wednesday that Embree's bullpen work thus far this spring has been more impressive than that of any other pitcher on the roster.

"He looks like he's in midseason form," Geren said. "The guy throws very, very hard."

Embree's midseason form in 2005, however, was far from impressive. He was 1-4 with a 7.65 ERA in 43 games for the Red Sox when he was designated for assignment on July 19. And he wasn't much better after being picked up by the Yankees, posting a 7.53 ERA in 24 appearances.

How, then, did Embree bounce back so well in 2006? Well, he says, it's a lot easier to pitch without bones floating around in your elbow.

"I had two spurs and five chips in there, and like a dummy, I pitched through it," Embree said. "Bad idea."

Offseason surgery cleaned out the elbow, and it took him a while to hit his stride with the Padres; his ERA was 4.45 in 38 games before the All-Star break. But in putting up a 1.64 ERA in 35 games after the break, Embree set himself up nicely for free agency and found an eager suitor in the A's, who signed him to a two-year, $5.5 million deal with a $3 million club option for 2009.

Fired up about his new deal and the prospect of a rehab-free winter, Embree worked himself into shape so quickly that he had to back off his workouts for fear of peaking too early.

"When you're younger, you kind of get by on natural ability, but like Nolan Ryan said at the end of his career, 'Now it's more of a job, and you really have to work at it,' and he was so right," Embree said. "But it got to the point where I felt too good. This is the best I've felt in three or four years, but at my age, you also have to learn to pace yourself a little."

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The oldest member of an Oakland staff that likely will have only three other pitchers over 30 (Esteban Loaiza, 35; Jay Witasick, 34; and Kiko Calero, 32), Embree said he's been pleasantly surprised by the maturity and makeup of his new teammates.

"It's a group of pretty young guys, but they really know how to handle themselves," he said. "They're very professional and go about their business the right way. You don't have to hold anyone's hand and kind of walk 'em through it. ... I really enjoyed watching their bullpen last year, even though I didn't really know anyone's name, and it's been great getting to know everyone I was watching.

"It's a talented bunch of guys. I'm real happy to be a part of it."

Flores a realist: Lefty reliever Ron Flores has enjoyed eight separate stints with the A's over the past two seasons, and his ERA in 36 big-league appearances is a solid 2.82.

But as one of several candidates for what appears to be one opening in the bullpen, Flores knows his fate this spring isn't entirely in his hands.

"Some things probably need to happen for me to make the team -- trades, injuries, whatever," he said. "You don't want to get a spot because of something bad happening to one of your friends, but you have to be realistic, too."

With Embree, Calero, Chad Gaudin, Justin Duchscherer and Huston Street locks for spots in what's expected to be a seven-man bullpen early in the year, two jobs are somewhat unsettled. But Witasick, who missed much of 2006 with ankle problems, is guaranteed $1.75 million this season, and he's looked sharp thus far.

That leaves Flores battling a group that includes fellow southpaws Brad Halsey, Lenny DiNardo, Jay Marshall and Erasmo Ramirez for a spot that might not even be reserved for a left-on-left specialist.

Left-handed big-league hitters batted .323 against Flores in 2006, but he says that number was severely skewed by an early rough patch. In 2005, lefties batted .154 against Flores.

"Lefties were 6-for-9 off me at one point last year," he said. "They were 4-for-22 after that, but that .323 still jumps out at you."

Flores, who held righties to a .228 average last season, doesn't see himself as a left-on-left specialist. But he knows that his success against lefties this spring will go a long way toward determining his fate.

"I'm coming in thinking I need to get every single left-handed hitter out," he said. "A guy in my position has to prove himself every time out. I guarantee that if I don't have a great spring, I won't make the team.

"It's a coin toss right now."

Said Geren: "We know what 'Flo' can do. He's right in the mix."

Welcome to me: Thursday was the club's first full-squad workout of the spring, so a series of positional meetings was held before the players hit the field. Before those meetings came Geren's first formal address, which he said was mostly unscripted.

"I made some notes beforehand and tried to kind of rehearse it, but it came out different every time," he admitted. "I think you come off too stiff when you have it all planned, so I just kind of went off the top of my head."

When camp opened, Geren told reporters his message would be intended to let the players know who he is and what to expect from him. On Thursday, though, he essentially let the players know, collectively, what he thought they were.

"I let them know I think we have a championship team and that we can win it all," he said. "I think it went well."

Dribblers: Shortstop Bobby Crosby, recovering from a back injury, graduated from tee work to soft toss on Thursday, taking about 30 swings at about 70 percent effort. He also stood in against some live pitching but didn't take any swings. "Just tracking it," he explained. Crosby said he's still pain-free and hopes to be hitting on the field by early next week. ... Geren threw to outfielder Shannon Stewart during batting practice and was impressed by his ability to use the whole field. "Very nice approach," Geren said. Stewart, who has been slowed by foot injuries for the past few years, didn't get much of a chance to run because most of the day's baserunning drills were what Geren called "instructional." ... Dan Haren, who has been working to refine his cut fastball this spring, continues to draw raves. After he threw live batting practice, outfielder Mark Kotsay, who didn't face Haren but watched him throw, said, "He's dirty. He looks really good." ... Infielder Antonio Perez and reliever Santiago Casilla are the only two players not in camp; both have had paperwork issues in the Dominican Republic. Perez is expected on Friday, but nobody's sure when to expect Casilla, who has been working out at the team's academy on the island. ... Outfielder Hiram Bocachica, who was designated for assignment when the A's claimed DiNardo off waivers right before camp opened, was released on Thursday. Asked if Bocachica had asked for his release, general manager Billy Beane said, "Not necessarily," but he also left open the possibility of bringing him back at some point.

Mychael Urban is a national writer for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.