CLEVELAND -- Each day when Oakland A's manager Bob Geren makes out his lineup, his options include a potential Hall of Famer, a five-time All-Star and the man who led the A's in homers and RBIs last season.
Finding a way to squeeze as much as possible out of Frank Thomas, Mike Sweeney and Jack Cust is a challenge for Geren, and it doesn't come with a simple solution.
It's a delicate balance between getting the hottest hitters in the lineup, continuing to develop the young players, and giving everybody enough playing time to stay sharp.
"That's what's tough is they're all good hitters," Geren said of his trio. "They can all help us."
With the Big Hurt entrenched at DH, Sweeney has dusted off his first baseman's glove, which means taking at-bats away from rookie Daric Barton, who Geren anointed as his everyday first baseman before the season began.
Cust, who had a team-high 26 homers and 82 RBI in 2007, has heated up at the plate and ensured himself regular playing time in left field. The A's are willing to put up with his occasional fielding mistakes, though he did make a couple of running catches in recent games.
Sweeney believes victories go a long way toward soothing egos when players watch from the bench."It's working out well because we're winning," he said.
SHORT HOPS -- Two days after pronouncing himself unfit to close games for Milwaukee, Eric Gagne says he's ready for another shot at a save. "I want to go out there as soon as I can," Gagne said before Monday's game against St. Louis. "That's the way I am. That's what I know. I know how to close. That's the only thing I know how to do." Brewers manager Ned Yost hasn't committed to a specific role for Gagne, who has five blown saves this season. ... New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez's strained right quadriceps will keep him from playing this week, causing the AL MVP to miss this weekend's series against the crosstown rival Mets. ... Infielder Edgar Gonzalez joined his younger brother, Adrian, on San Diego when they purchased his contract from Triple A. ... Pedro Martinez plans to throw a simulated game against minor leaguers Wednesday, another step toward returning to the Mets' rotation from a frustrating leg injury. ... Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg was suspended for three games as manager of the Midwest League's Peoria Chiefs for his role in bench-clearing incident last week.