PHOENIX -- With Mark Kotsay in Los Angeles undergoing back surgery on Thursday, his Oakland Athletics teammates wished him the best while figuring out a way to move ahead without the 31-year-old team leader. "The first thing is I hope he gets better," A's outfielder Nick Swisher said. "He's been hurting and we've all seen it. Losing him is a big blow. He's a Gold Glove center fielder. I hope he comes out all right." Swisher's job description just got expanded, as backup center fielder was added to the list, but another position shift doesn't faze him.
"I've been bouncing around since I got here," said Swisher, who played center field in the Minor Leagues. "I came in thinking I would be a first baseman. Then it was left field to right field, and I've played all four positions. I just need to fine-tune myself. Heck, they could put me behind the plate as long as I get my [at-bats]." Kotsay was to undergo a procedure called a microdiscectomy to repair a herniated disc that has bothered him since he first hurt it in 2003. He'll likely be out of action for two or three months. Kotsay's surgery will be performed by Los Angeles back specialist Dr. Robert Watkins. "It's tough not seeing him in there and not playing with him on an everyday basis," A's outfielder Milton Bradley said. "I know he agonized over it the past couple of years. It's good he's taking care of it so he doesn't have to go out and play in pain." Kotsay tried to find a way to stay in the lineup without having to submit to surgery. He stuck to a regimented offseason program designed to strength the back. When he aggravated it the first week of Spring Training, drastic methods were in order. He traveled to Los Angeles to get opinions before resigning himself to the surgery. "We hoped it was a manageable situation," A's general manager Billy Beane said. "Then it cropped up the first week of Spring Training and we thought we needed to take the next step. Surgery was always the last resort." Rangers manager Ron Washington, who spent the last several years with Oakland, thought the A's would do just fine without Kotsay. "They'll keep on moving on," Washington said before Thursday's game between the Rangers and A's. "They do that very well. They will miss his leadership every day and they will miss his drive every day. But they will find someone to step in."
Dan Johnson becomes the top candidate at first base, though he'll be pushed by Erubiel Durazo."I know him. He can roll out of bed and hit," Johnson said of Kotsay. "His defense speaks for itself. I think it became more a thing of what's best for the team. We all support his decision 100 percent. I hope he comes back healthy. This is a tight-knit group in here. A lot of times he'll be the center of attention around here." A's shortstop Bobby Crosby knows something about back trouble. He's still recovering from a lower back sprain and has yet to appear in a Cactus League game. "He knows what he has to do," Crosby said. "He's had problems in the past. It's not a fun thing to go through. He's one of the best guys on the team, and from what I've heard, one of the best around the Majors. You can't replace Kotsay."
Rick Eymer is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.