OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -Mike Piazza has no plans of interfering with Oakland's winning ways of late when he gets back in the lineup.
``It seems like we're playing well,'' Piazza said Saturday. ``I want to slide back on the bus.''
And the Athletics will be happy to have him aboard.
Piazza is slated to begin a rehab assignment Sunday with Triple-A Sacramento, the last big step for the 38-year-old designated hitter before he rejoins the A's after being sidelined since May 3 with a sprained right shoulder. He missed his 40th game Saturday night, when the A's played the middle game of their interleague series against St. Louis.
Piazza, playing in the American League and as a DH for the first time after 15 seasons as a catcher, is batting .280 with one home run and four RBIs in just 25 games so far in 2007. Sacramento has a day off Monday, then Piazza is slated to play for the River Cats again Tuesday and perhaps Wednesday as well.
``It's not going to feel much better in two or three weeks from now,'' he said. ``It will be a while before I can throw, but swinging the bat feels good. Baby steps. I'm excited. It's been frustrating the last month. I was swinging decent when I got hurt.''
And it's never easy for a player who gets hurt right after joining a new team and wants to make a strong first impression.
After leaving the New York Mets as a free agent, Piazza was thrilled to get a new start with the San Diego Padres last season. Then, in December, he received an $8.5 million, one-year contract from the A's.
The A's have become known for their slow starts only to be in the pennant race come August and September. Piazza knows he can help during the playoff push, too.
``At this point in my career, I look at it as half-filled,'' he said. ``There's still a lot of baseball left. If I can contribute and swing it well in the second half - during the dog days of summer - that's when teams need a little push. From a mental standpoint, I'll feel like it's April again.''
Piazza isn't the only one close to coming back for the injury-depleted A's, the defending AL West champions. Right fielder Milton Bradley was set to begin a rehab assignment from a hamstring injury Saturday night, while outfielder Bobby Kielty is scheduled to play for Sacramento on Wednesday. Injured right-hander Rich Harden might pitch an inning Wednesday for the River Cats and possibly be ready to rejoin the A's pitching staff Friday, likely in a relief role at first.
``We have a lot of guys coming back who are close,'' manager Bob Geren said. ``It's exciting.''
For the A's, seeing Piazza getting close is a positive. A pair of Piazza's bats and two sets of gloves sat in the dugout waiting for him Saturday.
``It's not 1,000 percent pain-free,'' he said. ``But it's strong enough that I will not have to be apprehensive about attacking the baseball. This is the big step - seeing pitching. Batting practice is one thing.''
Oakland called up infielder J.J. Furmaniak from Sacramento before Saturday night's game, and designated left-hander Erasmo Ramirez for assignment.

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