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Notes: Kotsay back for a visit

Notes: Kotsay back for a visit

PHOENIX -- The A's were treated to a welcome sight Thursday morning, when center fielder Mark Kotsay made his first appearance in the clubhouse since several days before undergoing back surgery March 8.

"It was a great feeling," Kotsay said of reuniting with his teammates. "You don't really realize how much you'll miss something until you're gone. ... This is basically your second family."

Back in town for just one day, Kotsay, who said he's been keeping tabs on the team through articles and video on MLB.com, used much of his time Friday providing teammates with medical updates.

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After Kotsay addressed the whole team, lefty starter Joe Kennedy said, "Kotsay's one of the biggest leaders on the team, so it gives us a little bit of an extra boost to see him walking around without a walker or anything."

"I feel good. I'm excited," Kotsay said. "The surgery went well, and the doctor was really optimistic. ... They told me no activity for another week, so walking is my therapy for now."

Kotsay said he was able to walk three hours after the procedure but spent most of the next two or three days "flat." He's still not allowed to bend, twist or lift anything -- "Putting my shoes on is a task," he said -- but will start the non-baseball phase of his rehab program next week at home in the San Diego area.

"They said 4-to-6 weeks for that part of it, but it can be accelerated depending on how my body heals," Kotsay said. "Once I'm cleared for baseball activity, I'll be back in Oakland with the team."

The original timeline for Kotsay's return to the lineup was 8-to-12 weeks. Asked if that's changed, he said: "It's hard to tell. I feel great now, but we haven't even started the real therapy, and you never know how your body's going to react. Everyone's body is different."

And while Diamondbacks lefty Randy Johnson, who is back on the mound after having a similar procedure done in the offseason, has a very different body than does Kotsay, the Big Unit is part of Kotsay's support system nonetheless.

"I talked to Unit before and after the surgery," Kotsay said. "It's great to hear he's back on the mound. He's been a big help."

Stewart on track: Although doctors told the A's that outfielder Shannon Stewart's plantar fasciitis shouldn't be an issue this spring, manager Bob Geren figured he'd take it slow with Stewart.

Stewart has looked strong thus far, however, with zero physical limitations.

"I gave him the green light [to steal a base] once, and he went," Geren said. "I think he's ready."

Limited by his foot problems to 44 games with the Twins last season, Stewart went 2-for-2 with a double against Kansas City and is batting -- unofficially -- .524 (11-for-21) over the past seven games. He's batting .417 (15-for-36) overall, including Thursday's game.

"I couldn't be happier, really," Geren said. "He's been great. His timing at the plate has been pretty much perfect. I actually find myself being cautious with him because everything's going so well. He's swinging the bat so well, I don't feel like I need to play him nine innings."

Geren said he's leaning heavily toward batting Stewart, who has led off for much of his career, in the No. 2 spot behind Jason Kendall.

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"There's a lot of reasons for that, but for example, Kendall hits a lot of ground balls," Geren said, "so there's the double-play factor. ... And I'm pretty sure Shannon has a little more power. I'll have to check on that."

In 2005, his previous full, healthy season, Stewart hit 10 home runs. Kendall has hit one home run since July 27, 2004.

Part of the movement: Opening Day starter Dan Haren was not among the millions surprised Tuesday night when Sanjaya Malakar, who is to good singing what burnt corn dogs are to fine dining, survived another cut on Fox's immensely popular "American Idol."

"I'm voting for him," Haren said proudly. "Every week."

Apparently there's a movement afoot designed to make a mockery of the "Idol" voting process, which leaves all decisions in the hands of the American public. And Haren is part of the movement.

"I saw it on 'Access Hollywood' or something," he said. "If everyone votes for him and he wins, it'll be such a joke they'll have to change the way they do it. It's gonna be awesome!"

Wet work: Before the game was called off during the second rain delay, Kennedy gave up four runs on seven hits, two walks and a hit batter over 3 1/3 innings. During the first rain delay, he went to the covered batting tunnel and threw 17 pitches in a simulated inning.

"I got all three [batters] out," Kennedy said with a smile. "I struck 'em all out."

Kidding aside, Geren said Kennedy, who entered the game 0-1 with a 20.48 ERA in four starts, showed improvement.

"I thought he was better," Geren said. "He's not there yet, but it was a much better performance. ... He's getting there. I'd say it was positive overall."

Kennedy said he's still struggling to find his curveball and slider, but he got five or six outs with his changeup, and he was pleased that he was able to put away most of the hitters on whom he got ahead in the count.

Also before the rains, Kendall snapped an 0-for-17 slide with a single in the first inning and eventually scored on a sacrifice fly by Milton Bradley. Kendall lined into a double play in his only other at-bat. Bradley also drove in a run with a third-inning single.

Dribblers ...: Outfielder Bobby Kielty, who had minor knee surgery March 2, said he'll play in a Minor League game Friday and figures he'll need about 20 at-bats to feel ready by Opening Day. "If I play in Minor League games every day, I could get 40," he said. "Ideally, though, I'd like to see some of the guys I'll be facing during the season." ... In part because the A's want another look at righty prospect Jason Windsor as a potential starter, he'll face the Mariners on Sunday instead of Rich Harden, who will pitch in a Minor League game. That Harden is scheduled to start at Seattle in the third game of the regular season was a factor in the decision, too, but Geren insisted, "We're not ducking anybody." ... Along those lines, Geren said that Haren, who will face the Angels in the second series of the regular season, remains scheduled to face them in the Cactus League finale next Wednesday. ... The hard work that first baseman Dan Johnson's been putting into his swing is starting to pay off. He entered Thursday's game batting .407 (11-for-27) over his previous 11 games. "He's starting to stay on the ball a lot better. I know he's been working on using the whole field," Geren said. "When he had those tremendous years in [Triple-A] Sacramento, all the reports were that using the whole field brought him that success." ... Righty setup man Justin Duchscherer (triceps tendinitis), who pitched two strong innings in a Minor League game Wednesday, is scheduled to make his Cactus League debut Saturday against the host Rangers in Surprise.

Up next: Haren will face righty Justin Germano of the visiting Padres in a 1:05 p.m. start Friday at Phoenix Muni.

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

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