Notes: Chavez bats eighth in opener
Harden shows progress in Monday's throwing session
TORONTO -- When Eric Chavez batted eighth in the Oakland lineup on July 24 against Boston, it was the first time he had hit that low in the batting order since Sept. 26, 2001.
The third baseman responded to the one-day drop in the order by hitting .345 (10-for-29) over the next eight games.
It was a rare hot streak this season for Chavez, whose .236 average this season puts him on pace for the worst batting season of his nine-year Major League career.
Now, with Chavez hitless in his last 12 at-bats, he once again finds himself taking the penultimate spot in the order for Monday's game against Toronto.
Athletics manager Ken Macha said that Chavez's placement was not intended to spur another hitting outburst, nor was it intended as a demotion. It was simply a matter of how Macha wanted the A's lineup to look against Jays left-hander Ted Lilly.
"We've got four guys or five guys in our lineup today that get hits off of Lilly and I'd like to get them stacked together," Macha said. "The last time we played against him we did the same thing, so we'll see how that works out."
Macha cited Bobby Kielty, Frank Thomas, Nick Swisher, Jay Payton and Bobby Crosby as the players he wished to group together in the lineup, and the quintet have combined for a .355 (27-for-76) average, four home runs and nine RBIs against Lilly in their careers.
The five players batted consecutively against Lilly on May 11, the last time the A's faced the left-hander at the Rogers Centre.
For Monday's game, Kielty and company are grouped together in the Oakland order with the only break being the switch-hitting Milton Bradley in the No. 3 spot.
"I wanted to get those guys as close together as I could," Macha said. "[Chavez] had no problem with it. He's a team guy -- he just wants to win."
Though his 16 homers and 55 RBIs rank third on the team, Chavez's lack of consistency at the plate has dogged him all season. His average hasn't risen past the .250 plateau since June 28, and he is batting just .204 (11-for-54) thus far in August. Chavez's season-long case of tendinitis in both forearms has been one reason for his struggles.
"He's cut back on his batting practice," Macha said. "He told me he started taking [batting practice] and he started feeling it again, so he scaled back.
"It's not unusual for players to not take batting practice. The person that knows the body the best is the person."
Tough turf: The A's won't have just the Blue Jays to contend with on Monday. They will also have to deal with the Rogers Centre's artificial surface.
The FieldTurf is notoriously hard on players' legs and knees, which is a bad omen for a team that has lost 482 man-games due to injury this season. Macha said he is watching closely to see how the turf affects Thomas (who had a 15-day stint on the disabled list with a sprained right quadriceps earlier this season), Crosby (who just came off the DL on Aug. 18 after a back strain) and center fielder Mark Kotsay (who recently missed eight games due to back spasms).
Kotsay was the first to receive a rest, as he was not in Monday's lineup in favor of Payton in center field.
Macha said his players' health is an obvious concern, but with the A's in the middle of a pennant race, there is less room for lineup manipulations.
"Right now we've got  games left, so we'll try to get our best lineup out there," the A's skipper said. "Everyone says this turf is tough, but there are three teams in this league that play 81 games on this turf."
Harden update: Right-hander Rich Harden continued his recovery from a sprained ligament in his right elbow with a throwing session on Monday. Oakland pitching coach Curt Young said Harden showed some progress after 45 throws from a 100-foot distance on a flat surface.
Perhaps most important for the A's, Young also reported that Harden was "feeling good" after the throwing session. Harden has made only six starts this season due to a strained back muscle that put him on the 15-day disabled list from April 27 to June 4, and his current elbow problem that has kept him on the DL since June 5.
There is no timetable for Harden's return, if the right-hander returns at all this season. If he does pitch again in September, it would likely be as a reliever, due to the lack of time left in the season to fully rehab Harden's arm strength.
Coming up: Left-hander Brad Halsey (3-3, 4.50) makes his seventh start of the year when the Athletics face A.J. Burnett (5-5, 4.29) and the Blue Jays at 4:07 p.m. PT at the Rogers Centre.
Mark Polishuk is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.