Duchscherer slightly ahead of schedule

Duchscherer slightly ahead of schedule

OAKLAND -- The folded-up sheet of paper A's starter Justin Duchscherer has been carrying around for the past week or so has it all laid out, detailing the daily rehab schedule that the team's athletic trainers put together to serve as his guide to recovery from a strained right biceps muscle.

The plan has been serving him so well that he's now slightly ahead of schedule.

Placed on the 15-day disabled list April 5, the day after he left his first start of the season after five strong innings that earned him a victory over the Indians, Duchscherer on Wednesday threw 20 pitches in the bullpen at McAfee Coliseum.

The sheet of paper had him scheduled to throw from halfway up the mound's slope, but Duchscherer threw from the rubber the whole time and came out of the session beaming.

"I went great, awesome," he said before the A's opened a two-game series against the visiting Mariners. "I was letting it go pretty good, too. I feel great. No pain at all."

That's great news for the A's, who also are without right-hander Rich Harden, on the DL retroactive to April 3 with a strained muscle beneath his right shoulder blade. Harden hasn't yet started a throwing program, and there's no timetable for his return.

Lefties Lenny DiNardo and rookie Greg Smith have been filling in for Duchscherer and Harden, leaving the A's with one lefty -- Alan Embree -- in the bullpen.

"The guys are throwing well, picking us up, and the team's doing great, but I really want to get back out there," Duchscherer said. "It makes me sick not being able to do my job, and I need to prove that I can stay healthy as a starter."

Duchscherer, who missed the final four months of last season after hip surgery, pitched exclusively in relief for the A's over the past four years before being given a shot at starting this spring. The decision was made in part because Duchscherer and the team are hoping that a more stable routine will keep him off the DL.

The next step for Duchscherer is another bullpen session Friday or Saturday in preparation for a rehab start with Triple-A Sacramento on Monday. Duchscherer said he only expects to make one rehab start before being activated, and A's manager Bob Geren said he's on the same page with the former All-Star setup man.

"Right now, yeah," Geren said. "We'll see how it goes. He hasn't been off that long."

Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.