Notes: Crosby ready for next step

Notes: Crosby ready for next step

PHOENIX -- Bobby Crosby is crashing Esteban Loaiza's party on Wednesday morning, and he makes no apologies.

Crosby has been waiting for this since last August, when he was placed on the disabled list with a lower back strain. He'll be facing his first Major League pitcher since his stint on the DL, and it could lead to returning to the Oakland Athletics lineup as early as Saturday, when the Milwaukee Brewers visit Phoenix.

It's been a long and sometimes boring wait for the 2004 American League Rookie of the Year. All he could do during the offseason was, well, nothing regarding baseball activity.

He was limited to hitting off a batting tee when he first arrived in camp and has progressed through soft toss and coaches batting practice. Facing Minor League pitching for a second consecutive day gave Crosby the confidence to take the next step.

"Our shortstop is feeling good," A's manager Bob Geren announced after watching Crosby hit for nearly an hour against Minor League pitching on Tuesday. "He took a lot of swings today, hit a couple more home runs. He looked good."

Wednesday's game was originally set up to keep Loaiza on his pitching schedule. He was to pitch in a Minor League intrasquad game. Now, he'll get a chance to face Crosby and infielder Lou Merloni, who has missed a week of action because of a mild concussion caused by a pitch to his head.

"It all fits perfectly," Geren said. "Merloni was cleared to start playing again, too."

Loaiza, who was forced out of his last appearance early, said his right shoulder feels fine after complaining of tightness when he faced the San Francisco Giants on Friday. He gave up home runs to Barry Bonds and Lance Niekro.

If Crosby comes out of the simulated game in good shape, he'll likely play in a Minor League game on Friday before making his spring debut with the A's the next day.

The final pitcher Crosby faced on Tuesday was Josh Alliston, a teammate at Long Beach State.

The A's obtained Alliston in the Minor League Rule 5 Draft last December. He was originally drafted by the Brewers in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft.

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Alliston was a member of the 2002 49ers' pitching staff that also included Jered Weaver and Abe Alvarez. He's third on Long Beach State's all-time appearance list with 90 and tied for second with 26 saves.

In January, Crosby and former A's first baseman Jason Giambi were named to Long Beach State's all-time baseball team, generated from a month-long Internet poll and spanning the 52-year history of the program.

Crosby batted .324 in his career with 21 home runs and 92 RBIs. He was named Big West Player of the Year in 2001 and was the starting shortstop for Team USA.

Giambi, who played third base for the 49ers, hit .397 in his career with 141 runs, 208 hits and 125 RBIs. He was named the American League MVP as a member of the A's in 2000.

More on Murphy: Infielder Donnie Murphy was the second-best fielding second baseman, percentage-wise, in the Texas League last year. The top fielder was Kevin Melillo. Both are currently in A's camp.

Murphy has Major League experience; Melillo has never played above Double-A in three seasons of pro ball.

While Melillo may be in the A's future plans, Murphy is in their present plans as a possible backup infielder who can play three positions.

"He's been impressive," Geren said of Murphy. "He's done a nice job at all positions. I know he didn't have good numbers with the Royals, but he can swing the bat."

A lifetime .163 hitter in 36 games with the Royals in 2004-05, Murphy is hitting .471 over his last eight games.

Pop ups: Right-hander Justin Duchscherer is a week away from playing in a game, according to Geren. He pitched from the front of the mound on Tuesday and will progress to throwing from halfway up, then all the way up. ... "Radical Reality," a motivational group, made its annual visit to the A's clubhouse on Tuesday afternoon. The group uses feats of strength to support the speeches and did amazing things with bricks, steel bars, frying pans, license plates and soda cans. Geren became part of the act when he tore a small phonebook in half, much to the delight of the players. ... Mike Piazza is hitting .538 (7-for-13) over his last five games. ... Geren said outfielder Bobby Kielty is on schedule to join the A's for Opening Day.

Up next: Crosby, Merloni and Loaiza will participate in a simulated game at the A's Minor League camp on Wednesday. The rest of the team will enjoy their only day off of the spring. On Thursday, right-hander Rich Harden and left-hander Brad Halsey are slated to pitch against the Colorado Rockies in Tucson. The Rockies will start right-hander Jason Hirsh.

Rick Eymer is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.