OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -Mark Kotsay took several rounds of early batting practice, and what an encouraging sight for the Oakland Athletics to see their healthy center fielder.
Kotsay was activated from the 60-day disabled list Friday and in the starting lineup for the first time this season after recovering from an operation on his lower back March 8.
``I feel better than before the surgery,'' said Kotsay, who missed 16 games for San Diego in 2003 with a sprained lower back. ``I don't have any pain. I have general soreness from playing every day (in minor league rehab stint).''
With Kotsay returning and batting seventh in the opener of a weekend series with the Minnesota Twins, manager Bob Geren had his entire projected starting outfield from opening day available.
But Geren gave Shannon Stewart a much-deserved day off - he'd played in a team-high 50 games - and used Travis Buck in left field against Stewart's former club. Milton Bradley, the team's right fielder who filled in at center when healthy during Kotsay's absence, returned Wednesday from his second stint on the DL with a strained left hamstring.
``He was one of the first guys here today,'' Geren said of Kotsay. ``When he walked in, he was pretty happy, shaking everybody's hands and saying, 'How you doing?' It was nice. He brings a little different energy. ... He gives a little uplift to everybody.''
Kotsay's goal was to be back June 1, and he did it exactly. The initial diagnosis for his recovery time was up to three months, though Kotsay used that as a conservative estimate. He said he will have to work hard to maintain his core strength for the rest of his life.
``I hope I beat everyone's expectations,'' Kotsay said. ``For me, I had a time frame in mind, and I accomplished it.''
To make roster room, the A's optioned infielder Donnie Murphy to Triple-A Sacramento.
Kotsay began a rehab assignment for Sacramento on May 21, batting .270 in 10 games - making seven starts in center field and three as designated hitter.
The A's have five healthy outfielders to use now, and Buck will get more chances in left. Geren said he has spoken with his players about the situation.
``It's different than a month ago when we were searching for help,'' Geren said. ``Now, we have an abundance. You do the best you can to keep everybody sharp. It's great. I like the looks of the team.''
Bobby Kielty, another one of the A's injured outfielders, did some live hitting but won't really be able to gauge the health of his strained left calf until he begins strengthening work and light running - which is still a ways off. He isn't eligible to return from the DL until June 28.
``It seems like the team has been bitten by bad luck,'' Kotsay said. ``Hopefully because we've had so much negative it turns into a positive.''
The A's still have nine players on the disabled list, which they have used 13 times already after needing the DL 15 times total in 2006. Designated hitter Mike Piazza, star right-hander Rich Harden and closer Huston Street are among those sidelined.
Injured righty reliever Justin Duchscherer, on the DL with a strained right hip, was examined in Nashville on Friday by Titans doctor Thomas Byrd. He recommended Duchscherer not throw for two weeks.

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