OAKLAND

ERIC CHAVEZ didn't start at third base for the A's on Saturday, leaving general manager Billy Beane and manager Bob Geren to do their no-worries best to assuage the dread.

"Scheduled day off," Geren said.

"No day games after night games," Beane said.

Meanwhile, the sirens wailing in the background signaled perhaps Chavez, four games into the season, had received another unwelcome message from his body.

Sitting in the clubhouse after this 8-5 loss to Seattle, ice-pack wrapped around the right shoulder on which he has twice undergone surgery, most recently in August, Chavez said he banged it diving back to first base on a pickoff attempt Friday night.

"I started favoring a little bit after that," Chavez, 31, conceded.

"But I'm all right. I wasn't playing (Saturday) regardless, so it just happened to work out this way. I expect to be out there (today)."

So, from an organizational point of view, this is precautionary, a simple matter of prudent maintenance for a man whose career, after four surgeries in 19 months, has become a lab experiment.

The A's had better hope it's nothing more than a slight tweak, for everything changes if Chavy's right shoulder is not up to the demands of 125-130 games.

The lineup loses the balance and symmetry theoretically essential to the production needed to shepherd a young pitching staff through the early months. Without Chavez, the A's don't have the lineup that fashioned a fabulous comeback Wednesday night in Anaheim and batted .282 through the first four games.


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Moreover, the defense suffers when a six-time Gold Glove winner is replaced at third by a converted shortstop like Nomar Garciaparra, who in the eighth inning Saturday was replaced at third by another converted shortstop, Bobby Crosby.

The results were revealing.

Though there was no damage in the wake of Garciaparra making a wide throw to second base, precluding a double play in third inning, the A's paid a price in the eighth.

With Oakland nursing a 5-4 lead, Crosby committed an error on a grounder by leadoff batter Mike Sweeney. Three batters later, Sweeney came around to tie the game, followed by Adrian Beltre to give the Mariners the lead. They added a third run that inning and another in the ninth, sending 19,560 out of the Coliseum grumbling and unfulfilled.

While it's unfair to lay the blame for this loss on Crosby, it's not inaccurate to suggest that Chavez was missed on the first of many scheduled days off.

"We're going to have to play it by ear, for the most part," Geren said of Chavez's availability. "But there's no question that anytime he's in there, our defense is better."

Presumably, so is the offense. The A's lineup brings the element of danger when No. 2 hitter Orlando Cabrera is followed by left-handed hitting Jason Giambi, then right-hander Matt Holliday, lefty Chavez, righty Garciaparra, with slugging lefty Jack Cust in the seven-hole.

It is, on paper, the team's meatiest order since 2006, when Oakland's lineup featured Frank Thomas, Milton Bradley, Jay Payton, Nick Swisher, Mark Kotsay and, yes, Chavez, who hit 22 homers and drove in 72 runs over 137 games that season, while fighting through tender forearms and hamstrings.

Without Chavy, the infield becomes more of a minefield and the lineup is navigated more easily.

The idea is to spell Chavez at third or Giambi at first with either Garciaparra or Crosby, with one of the four available to DH on occasion. Cust is the primary DH, as he should be.

But so much depends on Chavy and his body. Beane and Geren may realize they can't rely on their longest-tenured player, but they understand his health is a pivotal issue.

Ever skeptical, I asked Chavez if we can read anything into the fact that his "scheduled day off" came just before the A's will face two left-handed pitchers.

"Maybe before, but not now," he said. "It's more about health than matchups. The health issue takes precedence."

Though Chavy is believable because he's as straight as they come, it's up to his shoulder to keep him honest and silence those sirens.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com.