Geren happy A's staying healthy

Geren happy A's staying healthy

PHOENIX -- With the exception of star third baseman Eric Chavez's continued medical woes, a nasty battle with strep throat and the flu that melted 20 or so pounds from catcher Rob Bowen's frame, and injuries to outfield prospects Carlos Gonzalez and Aaron Cunningham, the A's have managed stay pretty healthy this spring.

Outfielder/designated hitter Jack Cust took a scary beaning last week, but he came back quickly and promptly returned to his old slugging ways.

There was some concern over a minor hand injury suffered by rookie first baseman Daric Barton, but as evidenced by his three-run homer off White Sox righty Jose Contreras in Friday's 8-1 win in Tucson, he appears to be just fine, too.

And the seemingly annual hand-wringing over right-hander Rich Harden, whose Cy Young talent has been often shelved by trips to the disabled list over the past few years, stopped cold on Friday as well when Harden held the Sox hitless through the first 4 2/3 innings of Friday's victory.

But the relatively healthy stay in the desert -- relatively must be included in the wake of the Oakland-record-tying 22 times the club used the DL last season -- isn't the only reason that second-year manager Bob Geren's enthusiasm is off the charts less than a week before the A's head for Japan to open the regular season against the world champion Red Sox.

Oakland's Cactus League record of 11-5 through Friday is certainly a factor in Geren's gusto. More important, though, is how that record has been achieved.

"Obviously, being mostly healthy helps, and you always have a happy clubhouse when you're winning," Geren says. "But what excites me is watching us playing really, really good baseball, and we're doing that in every aspect of the game."

How jacked is Geren? The morning after watching Cust and shortstop Bobby Crosby -- another recently oft-injured Athletic -- each launch their third homer of the spring in support of starting pitcher Greg Smith's four shutout innings during a 6-4 win over the host Cubs on Tuesday, the skipper had a bounce in his step that you'd more typically see from an eighth-grade boy who just got asked by his school's prettiest girl to be her date at the Sadie Hawkins dance.

"We had pitching, defense, baserunning, intensity, a couple long balls, intelligent pitching -- almost like a perfect game," Geren gushed. "I was on the phone all last night telling everyone how great it was."

Later that day, the A's were near perfect again in a 2-1 victory over the visiting Diamondbacks, using strong defense and great pitching to make up for a rare uneventful day at the plate (four hits total). Lefty Dana Eveland, one of Smith's main competitors for the No. 5 spot in Oakland's rotation, struck out seven over five shutout innings.

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And then, after a relaxing day off Thursday, the offense cranked back up with 12 hits -- Dan Johnson also homered and drove in four runs -- in the rout of the White Sox. Oakland's team batting average this spring is .303, tops in the American League and second-best in the Majors behind San Diego's .322.

All of this from a team that traded away its ace (Dan Haren), its most dynamic position player (Nick Swisher), its veteran clubhouse leader (Mark Kotsay) and perhaps the most valuable utility man in the Majors over the past three seasons (Marco Scutaro) in exchange for 13 prospects over the winter as part of what general manager Billy Beane openly admitted was a rebuilding process.

Before Spring Training started, many media outlets and baseball insiders had the A's penciled in for last place in the four-team AL West. The team's strong showing here hasn't quite convinced many to change their projections, but that doesn't bother Geren one bit.

"It's just so much fun to me watching the game played the right way," Geren says. "And to have such a young team gel so quickly and be playing this way together already, it's really neat."

Geren generously spreads the credit around when asked to explain how the team has gelled so quickly, but he starts with the fact that he has three new coaches on his staff -- Ron Romanick, bullpen; Don Wakamatsu, bench; and Tony DeFrancesco, third base -- and a host of fresh, young players looking to make an impression.

"It's been a little bit of everything," Geren says. "The staff, collectively, has a high energy level, and they've been very creative with their drills. That's probably part of it. And then there's the competition, not just for jobs but within the drills. That brings a certain energy and fun to the whole deal, too.

"The coaches, the players, we all have the same goal, and that's to play hard, play smart and execute. To this point, that's what we're getting out of these guys every day, and it's been fun. It really has."

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