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A's hit three homers to top Hanshin

A's hit three homers to top Hanshin

TOKYO -- For his club's exhibition game against the Hanshin Tigers at the Tokyo Dome on Sunday, A's manager Bob Geren tweaked the batting order he'd used with his projected regulars for much of the spring.

"I'm just playing with some different combinations, seeing what I like," Geren said, and there was much to like about the immediate results.

Designated hitter Jack Cust and right fielder Travis Buck each homered in support of right-hander Justin Duchscherer, slumping rookie first baseman Daric Barton doubled twice, and reserve infielder Donnie Murphy added a late grand slam as the A's rolled to a 10-2 victory.

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In drubbing the Tigers in a day game that started about 14 hours after they beat the Yomiuri Giants here Saturday night, the A's happily closed out the not-for-keeps half of Opening Series Japan 2008. The serious stuff comes Tuesday and Wednesday, in the form of a two-game series against the Boston Red Sox to open the regular season.

The stadium was a little more than half-full Sunday, and while the Hanshin fans in the left-field bleachers did their part to liven things up with incessant singing, chanting and music-making while the Tigers were at the plate, the atmosphere wasn't nearly as raucous as it was for Saturday's game against the Giants, who call the Tokyo Dome home.

And it was a far cry from what the A's are expecting when they take on the Red Sox, who will start Japanese icon Daisuke Matsuzaka in the March 25 opener and have Hideki Okajima, another favorite son, in their bullpen.

"It's going to be insane," Buck said flatly.

"It was still pretty loud [today], and if it's that loud when it's not full, imagine what it'll be like packed, with Dice-K out there," said Oakland's Opening Day starter, Joe Blanton. "It's gonna be ridiculous."

The most significant lineup changes for the A's on Sunday were Barton being dropped from third to sixth in the order, Cust moving from cleanup to third, and left fielder Emil Brown moving into the cleanup spot.

Cust responded to the change with a bang. After a one-out double by second baseman Mark Ellis in the top of the first inning, Cust went the other way in slamming his fourth home run of the spring over the high wall in left-center.

"It was a fastball, down and away," Cust explained during the in-game interview to which any player who homers in a Japanese pro game must submit. "I thought I got under it too much, but fortunately it went out."

Hanshin cut the lead in half in the bottom of the frame, but the Tigers caught quite a break in doing so. After fielding a routine one-out grounder off the bat of Keiichi Hirano, Ellis tripped on the artificial turf and was unable to make a throw. Hirano promptly stole second, took third on a wild pitch and scored on a groundout by Takahiro Arai.

"He said he caught the front of his [shoe] on the turf," Duchscherer said of Ellis. "That turf's a little different out there."

Two innings later, Buck, Oakland's leadoff man, went to school on the way Hanshin starter Shinobi Fukuhara had been working him and pulled a no-doubter into the right-field bleachers for a 3-1 lead.

"It was a 2-0 cutter, middle-inside," was Buck's in-game comment. "I think it was the fourth cutter he threw in, and I just stayed inside and had a good swing on it."

Geren insisted his lineup changes had nothing to do with Barton's recent struggles, which included a 2-for-11 slump in his final four Cactus League games and an 0-for-4 night with three strikeouts Saturday against Yomiuri.

"No, he can hit," Geren said. "Everybody has nights like that. He'll do better."

And he did. Barton's first double was a line drive into the right-field corner in the second inning, and while his second was a routine fly ball that Hanshin center fielder Norihiro Akahoshi lost in the roof, it did give the A's a 5-1 cushion. Ellis and Cust, who had singled, were running on contact on Barton's two-out blooper in the third.

Duchscherer was sharp and efficient until the Tigers rallied for a run with two out and nobody on in the fifth by stringing together four consecutive singles. He left the bases loaded, though, before leaving the game with a line of six hits without a walk and four strikeouts on 80 pitches.

"My goal was to go five innings with my pitch count, and to do that, I needed to get ahead and get some quick outs," Duchscherer said. "For the most part, I was able to do that, so I feel good about the way I threw."

Righty Keith Foulke took over for Duchscherer and zipped through a perfect, nine-pitch sixth inning for his first scoreless outing in five appearances this spring, lefty Dallas Braden was perfect in the seventh and allowed only an infield single in the eighth, and lefty Lenny DiNardo wrapped things up with a shutout ninth.

Given that DiNardo was viewed as rookie Dana Eveland's main competition for the fifth starter's job late in camp, DiNardo's brief outing served as an unofficial announcement that Eveland, who worked five innings in Saturday's win, is indeed the No. 5 man.

Apparently, pitching coach Curt Young made an unofficial announcement of his own.

"He pulled me aside today and said, 'Hey, you're a big part of our rotation,'" Eveland said. "It was nice to finally hear it. It's still not [Geren saying], 'Hey, you're the No. 5 guy,' but I'll take it."

Oakland's final five runs came in the eighth, which shortstop Bobby Crosby opened with a double off the right-field wall. Reserve catcher Rob Bowen lined a one-out RBI single to right before Murphy's slam, an opposite-field shot to right with two out, turned the game into a blowout.

After leaving the field to the familiar sound of Kool & The Gang's "Celebration," the A's seemed satisfied that they're ready for the challenge that the Red Sox represent.

"We came out here wanting to continue what we did in the States," Buck said, "and overall, I think we're where we want to be going into Tuesday."

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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