Chavez returns to A's; Big Hurt replaces him on DL

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Eric Chavez returned to the Athletics a few days ahead of schedule.

The A's activated their six-time Gold Glove third baseman from the 60-day disabled list Thursday and put him in the starting lineup as designated hitter for the finale of a three-game series with the Toronto Blue Jays.

As expected, Oakland placed designated hitter Frank Thomas on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right knee and quadriceps tendinitis.

Chavez was greeted warmly by the Oakland crowd but went hitless in his season debut, going 0-for-4 with one strikeout.

Chavez, who had offseason surgery on his back and both shoulders, was in Portland on a rehabilitation assignment with Triple-A Sacramento and thought he would travel with the River Cats to Colorado Springs. Chavez called the training staff before playing and hitting a home run Wednesday, then received word about 11:30 p.m. he would be coming to Oakland.

"I was just a little lethargic," Chavez said following the A's 12-0 loss to the Blue Jays. "I need to catch up on some sleep. I'll feel better tomorrow, I'm assuming."

A's manager Bob Geren confirmed Chavez will play third base for the first time Friday night at Texas and probably again Saturday before going back to DH on Sunday.

"With Frank going on the DL, I can use him here and work up his innings at third," Geren said. "We feel like he's ready. It's a day where you lose Frank and you add him. It's great to see him back. We're going to miss Frank but with him in the middle of the lineup it's going to help."

Batting in the cleanup spot left vacant by Thomas' absence, Chavez struck out against Toronto starter Jesse Litsch, then grounded out in his next two at-bats before flying out to right in the eighth.

"My bat was a little slow," Chavez said. "I don't think it'll be too much of an adjustment. I just need to get some sleep."

Thomas' knee had been bothering him for a couple of weeks, but he aggravated the injury stretching out a double Tuesday night against Toronto on his 40th birthday.

The Big Hurt -- who rejoined the A's on April 24 after being released by the Blue Jays four days earlier -- hinted late Wednesday he could be headed for a DL stint, his first since 2005 in his final season with the Chicago White Sox.

"It's got to calm down," Thomas said. "You don't want to risk rupturing a quadriceps tendon at my age. In eight or nine days I'll start hitting. I wish I had just hit a hard single. I'll be back. It's fine. It's a big-time strain and there's lots of inflammation."

Thomas was 11-for-24 (.458) with four home runs and six RBIs in seven games on the team's current homestand. He has hit four of his seven homers in 2008 since his release from Toronto.

For now, Chavez is most concerned with staying healthy, and isn't making any guarantees that his defense will be Gold Glove-caliber right away -- or that his swing will be consistent. He expects his defensive play "to be at least average."

The A's got good news on outfielder Ryan Sweeney, who fouled a ball off his foot Wednesday. X-rays were negative for a fracture and he will be able to play again once his bruise is better and the soreness is gone.

To clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Chavez, Oakland designated outfielder Jeff Fiorentino for assignment.