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Oakland Athletic's pitcher Rich Harden (40) throws against the Texas Rangers during the second inning of their Major League Baseball game, Sunday, May 11, 2008, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tim Sharp)
CLEVELAND — Each day when Oakland A's manager Bob Geren makes out his lineup, his options include a potential Hall of Famer, a five-time All-Star and the man who led the A's in homers and RBIs last season.

Finding a way to squeeze as much as possible out of Frank Thomas, Mike Sweeney and Jack Cust on a game-by-game basis is a challenge for Geren, and it doesn't come with a simple solution.

The A's best offensive lineup probably would include all three on a regular basis. The catch: All three are best suited for designated hitter, and only one name can be penciled in as DH each game.

It's a delicate balance between getting the hottest hitters in the lineup, continuing to develop the A's promising young players, and giving everybody enough playing time to stay sharp.

"That's what's tough is they're all good hitters," Geren said of his trio. "They can all help us."

Sunday's lineup against the Texas Rangers included the Sweeney-Cust-Thomas combo, batting together in that order, in the Nos. 2-4 spots.

It paid dividends early, as the A'sjumped on Rangers starter Sidney Ponson for four runs in the first inning. Sweeney was hit by a pitch. Cust banged a double to put runners on second and third. Thomas drove in Sweeney with a single to center, and Cust and Thomas scored on Emil Brown's home run.

Thomas had two RBIs Sunday, his second straight day of driving in two runs. He's started at DH in 16 of the 17 games since the A's signed him April 24, and he's likely to remain there for the three-game series against the Cleveland Indians that begins today at Progressive Field.

The A's are giving Thomas, who has yet to homer with Oakland, every chance to find the power stroke they anticipated when they brought him in.

"He's getting close," Geren said. "He's getting his hits, getting his walks, getting doubles. The weather's warming up, I'm sure he will too."

With the Big Hurt entrenched at DH, Sweeney has dusted off his first baseman's glove. After five All-Star appearances in 12-plus seasons with Kansas City, Sweeney was expected to be the A's right-handed option at DH this season until Thomas arrived. The last time Sweeney saw substantial time at first was in 2005, when he played 49 games there.

He's adapted well to a part-time role, hitting .322 in 87 at-bats. Those numbers will force Geren to keep giving him time at first, even as it means taking at-bats away from rookie Daric Barton, who Geren anointed as his everyday first baseman before the season began.

Sweeney had two hits and scored a run Sunday. Barton replaced him for defensive purposes in the eighth inning and homered in his only at-bat.

"I'd love to be in there a little bit more, but my role on this team right now is to play a little bit of first base, give Barton a (break) and once in a while DH," Sweeney said. "Whether I get one at-bat a week or 30 at-bats a week, as long as we're winning I'll be happy."

Cust, who had a team-high 26 homers and 82 RBIs in 2007, has heated up at the plate and ensured himself regular playing time in left field. The A's are willing to put up with his occasional fielding mistakes, though it should be noted he made a couple of nice running catches in recent games.

"I think Bob's doing a good job of keeping it where guys are not getting stale by sitting them a bunch," Cust said. "It's difficult I'm sure for him. You've got some established guys you have to (rotate) and keep everybody happy."

Regardless of how the playing time sits with everybody, the bottom line is finding the lineup that wins. The A's, at 23-16, have done that so far.

And Sweeney believes victories go a long way toward soothing egos when players are watching from the bench. "It's working out well because we're winning," he said.

PITCHING MATCHUPS vs. INDIANS: Today, 4:05 p.m., RH Justin Duchscherer (3-1, 2.45 ERA) vs. RH Paul Byrd (1-3, 4.28); Wednesday, 4:05 p.m., RH Joe Blanton (2-5, 3.82) vs. LH C.C. Sabathia (2-5, 6.55); Thursday, 9:05 a.m., LH Greg Smith (2-2, 3.00) vs. LH Aaron Laffey (1-2, 1.83).