A's narrow race for No. 5 starter

A's narrow race for No. 5 starter

PHOENIX -- The process of paring the A's roster down to 30 -- the number of players they'll take to Japan for a weeklong trip during which they'll open the regular season against the Red Sox in Tokyo -- continued Monday.

At the same time, the fight for the No. 5 spot in the starting rotation came into sharper focus.

Officially, the A's reassigned lefties Gio Gonzalez and Greg Smith to their Minor League camp. Smith was believed to be one of three finalists for the No. 5 spot, leaving veteran lefty Lenny DiNardo and rookie lefty Dana Eveland, who threw five shutout innings against the Royals on Monday at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, to battle it out.

After the game, A's manager Bob Geren announced that Eveland will start the first of two exhibition games Oakland will play against Japanese pro teams before taking on the Red Sox. However, Geren refused to declare Eveland, who has a 1.20 ERA in four spring starts, the No. 5 man over DiNardo, who has a 1.69 ERA in four games.

Asked when he'd been told of starting in Japan, Eveland, who was one of the six players acquired in the deal that sent Dan Haren to the Diamondbacks, smiled and said, "They still haven't told me, but that's good to hear."

The roster moves also dropped to 36 the number of players left in camp, and six of them won't go to Japan. Third baseman Eric Chavez, outfielder prospect Carlos Gonzalez, righty reliever Kiko Calero and righty starter Chad Gaudin had been told they were among the six prior to Monday, and non-roster outfielder Todd Linden got the bad news Monday.

The A's are taking five extra players to Japan as a concession to the two exhibition games. Before the March 25 season opener against the Sox, the team has to set what's essentially a 28-man roster, with three of the 28 being deemed ineligible to play.

It's likely two of the "ineligibles" will be used on the pitchers who start the exhibition games in Japan. Righty Justin Duchscherer is scheduled to start the second one on March 23, with the first, set for March 22, likely to be handled by the winner of the competition for the No. 5 spot.

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The third "ineligible" might just end up being Chavez, who underwent back surgery in the offseason. He hasn't appeared in any games this spring, but he's been taking batting practice for a while and was cleared Monday to start taking ground balls. If he's "ineligible," rather than placed on the disabled list to start the season, he'd be eligible to play in Oakland's United States opener April 1 against the Red Sox at McAfee Coliseum.

If he's placed on the DL when the "28-man" roster is set, Chavez won't be eligible to play until April 4.

Gaudin, recovering from offseason esophagus, hip and foot surgeries, made his Cactus League debut with two perfect innings in relief Monday. He is working his way toward building his load up for his first scheduled regular-season start on April 12, so he'll be placed on the DL to start the season.

"It was good to see Chad back on the mound -- great performance," Geren said.

Calero has yet to appear in a Cactus League game while working to strengthen his right shoulder, so he'll likely open on the DL, too. Gonzalez, who has a strained hamstring, was cleared to take batting practice Monday. He'll likely open the season at Triple-A Sacramento.

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