Notes: Kennedy's struggles continue

Notes: Kennedy's struggles continue

PHOENIX -- In a scene remarkably similar to the one that played out Friday night at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, the starting pitcher for the A's was knocked around early and often Saturday.

On Friday, righty Joe Blanton gave up hits to the first five hitters in the top of the first inning and was down 4-0 by the time the Diamondbacks were finished batting around.

On Saturday, lefty Joe Kennedy gave up hits to the first six batters he faced in the top of the first and was down 5-0 by the time the Brewers were finished batting around.

Blanton, who is assured of a spot in the A's starting rotation, shrugged his outing off as nothing more than a bad day in mid-March. The stakes are a bit higher for Kennedy, however. Manager Bob Geren has said the No. 5 spot in the rotation is Kennedy's "job to lose," a comment that's essentially been echoed by general manager Billy Beane, but Kennedy has done little in four spring starts to justify the brass' confidence.

He was further roughed up in the third inning Saturday before being lifted with one out, and the numbers to this point aren't pretty: 22 earned runs on 31 hits over 9 2/3 innings for a 20.48 ERA.

"If you talk to Billy and Bob, they're probably a little worried," Kennedy conceded. "It's my job to go out there and put them at ease."

Said Geren: "I wouldn't say 'worried.' We're seeing good velocity, and he's healthy. Those are the positives. We're sticking with the positives."

The big negative: Kennedy was making poor pitches in favorable counts.

"The body felt good," he said. "The results aren't there still. ... Today I just wasn't putting guys away. I had a lot of 0-2, 1-2 counts, but I just couldn't finish them off."

With three more spring starts scheduled, Kennedy, who admitted to being "a little bit" frustrated, figures he has plenty of time to right the ship.

"I know I'm a good pitcher," he said. "I know I can get outs. ... Hopefully I can turn things around and get ready for the season. I think I'll be OK. Just gotta keep battling."

Getting closer: Shortstop Bobby Crosby played three innings on defense in a Minor League game at Papago Park and finished the game as a designated hitter, going 1-for-5 with a walk. Geren called it a "big step" in Crosby's recovery from the back injury that cost him most of the second half last season.

Crosby likely will play longer on defense in another Minors game Sunday and continue a progression of work designed to get him into a Cactus League game by next week.

"The soonest we could see him playing [for the A's] is that night game [Tuesday against the Royals] in Surprise," Geren said.

The plan to get righty setup man Justin Duchscherer (triceps tendinitis) into his first Cactus League game on Sunday has been changed. Saying Duchscherer is "not too far away," Geren called an appearance in Monday's home game against the Padres a possibility.

Also on the mend is outfielder Bobby Kielty, who had knee surgery two weeks ago. He's been cleared for soft-toss hitting and still expects to be ready to play by April.

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Game notes: First baseman Dan Johnson, who has been working on his swing with new hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo, entered Saturday's game batting .219 (7-for-32) but collected two hits in the loss to visiting Milwaukee to raise his average to .257. "He still hasn't really found his stroke," Geren said before the game. "But he's working hard. He's close." ... Mike Piazza, who has driven in at least one run in seven of the 10 games in which he's appeared, hit a two-run homer and a sacrifice fly to take over the team lead in RBIs with 11. He also singled, lifting his team-high batting average to .520 (13-for-25). "Phenomenal," Geren said. "Whatever he's doing to get himself ready, it's working." ... Antonio Perez, who went 2-for-12 in his first four games, has been on a tear ever since. He started at shortstop and went 2-for-2 with a double and a walk, raising his batting average to .455 (10-for-22) over his past 10 games and .343 overall. Perez batted an Oakland-record-low .102 in 57 games last season. ... Righty Chad Gaudin, expected to see some late-inning work out of the bullpen this year, didn't allow a run for the fifth time in six appearances this spring. ... Rule 5 draftee Jay Marshall, a sidearm lefty, threw two perfect innings, lowering his ERA to 2.89 in seven outings. "He's gonna make that Rule 5 decision tough on us," Geren said.

Dribblers: Outfielder/first baseman Nick Swisher recently made the mistake of calling veteran reliever Alan Embree an "old man." Embree, 37, had the rims on Swisher's pickup truck removed. "I've been driving around like this for about a week," Swisher said. "Now I've been calling him 'Mr. Embree,' hoping he'll give my rims back." ... Righty reliever Marcus McBeth was optioned to Triple-A Sacramento after Friday night's game. McBeth, a converted outfielder rated by Baseball America as the eighth-best prospect in the organization, allowed two runs on one hit -- a home run -- in two innings this spring. ... Geren said he's been impressed by a number of young relievers this spring, mentioning Marshall, Connor Robertson and Mike Mitchell by name. "They don't look intimidated or nervous in any way, shape or form," Geren offered. ... Closer Huston Street, who hasn't allowed a run in five appearances this spring, on Friday told the San Francisco Chronicle that his agents have been talking with the A's about a multiyear contract extension that would take him through his arbitration years. Street, who isn't arbitration-eligible for four years, said financial specifics haven't yet been discussed.

Up next: Righty Dan Haren will start Oakland's split-squad game Sunday against the visiting Angels, who will counter with righty Nick Adenhart at 1:05 p.m. at Phoenix Muni. The other split-squad game will feature righty Jason Windsor of the A's taking on righty Livan Hernandez of the Diamondbacks in Tucson.

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