OAKLAND -- Yoenis Cespedes had a strong batting practice session Wednesday, then swung the bat to manager Bob Melvin's satisfaction in a simulated game against pitchers Dan Straily and Tommy Milone.

"For me it was more about the B.P.," Melvin said. "Yesterday he was trying to ease himself into it. Today he was doing much more. I hope we can see a path where he can be in the starting lineup."

The A's want Cespedes in left field when they open their best-of-five American League Division Series on Friday night against the Detroit Tigers. Their best lineup is with Cespedes in left, where one of his strengths is his arm. But if he can't throw without pain, the A's still want him in the middle of their lineup as the D.H.

In Oakland's most recent configuration, that means Brandon Moss, and not Seth Smith, in left. Daric Barton would be at first base.

For the first five months of the season, Smith could count on playing left or as the D.H. against right-handed starting pitching. And the left-handed hitting Smith saved his best month for September -- just as he started to lose playing time. So even after hitting .393 during the last month, Smith finds himself facing the very real possibility of not getting a start in the ALDS.

It's been that way, however, for about five weeks or so. Barton, who was designated for assignment twice in the first four months of the season, was called up Aug. 26 in the wake of Josh Reddick going on the disabled list, and Barton played first while Moss, who had been the first baseman since the middle of 2012, switched to right field.

Moss (.314 after Aug. 25 with nine homers and a .417 on-base percentage) and Barton (.301 with a .381 OBP) both started hitting -- as did Smith in the 15 games (seven starts) he got in September -- and when Reddick came back, Moss was made the D.H. Smith was down to the occasional start. When Cespedes needed time off in September because of his shoulder, Moss got five starts in left field and Smith got two.

It says something about the A's that a .393 hitter has trouble breaking into the lineup.

"It's been this way my whole career," said Smith, who looked like the odd man out in spring training but instead wound up with 410 plate appearances. "I'm used to it. What I know is that regardless of the situation, when you are put into the game you're expected to be productive, so I'll be ready.''

As for Moss, he said, "I don't see myself playing first base the way things are now. It looks like left field or D.H. for me, and really, I don't care which."

Melvin sounded apologetic when asked about Smith, who hit .235 with eight homers and 40 RBIs.

"It's difficult," the manager said. "He's been the odd man out. But at the same time, he's been swinging the bat well. For us, we know that the biggest at-bat of the game in this series could go to a pinch-hitter.''

  • Straily and Milone both threw 45 pitches in the simulated game Wednesday afternoon, each of them throwing to the A's regulars as Oakland was looking for ways to keep all its bats sharp.

    The simulated game also was important for Straily, who is down to start Game 4 of the playoffs Tuesday in Detroit. Without Wednesday's throwing session, Straily would have gone two weeks without facing hitters, and the A's weren't crazy about that idea.

  • Thursday will see the arrival of the Tigers, who will work out at 3 p.m. after the A's go at 1 p.m. Detroit has only played one series in the Coliseum this year, winning two of three in April.

  • The A's faced Justin Verlander twice in the 2012 ALDS and the Tigers ace beat them both times, in Game 1 and Game 5.

    That seems unlikely to happen again. The Tigers will go with Max Scherzer in Game 1 and Verlander in Game 2. That means Scherzer for Game 5 and Verlander sitting it out.

    If it seems like the A's are getting a break, they're not. Scherzer was the only 20-game winner in the A.L. this year at 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA. Verlander didn't have a great year but was plenty good at 13-12 with a 3.46 ERA.

    "I think they're going with the guy they think is pitching the best," Melvin said. "But they are both a challenge."

    Moss said that with those two plus ERA champ Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister, "the Tigers have the best pitching rotation in baseball."

    "They aren't going with Verlander in the first game," Moss said, "but the other guy is just as tough."

  • Melvin isn't having second thoughts about not having opening day starter Brett Anderson in his rotation.

    Anderson returned from four-plus months on the disabled list (sprained right ankle, stress fracture of the right foot) as a reliever and hasn't pitched more than a three-inning stint. He never got stretched out to the point where he could realistically give the A's 80 or 90 pitches, the minimum for what the club would want in a starter.

    "He wanted to contribute," Melvin said. "He's the one guy in the bullpen with no set role. He could come in for a couple of innings or he could come in to face a tough left-handed batter."

    Anderson, a left-hander widely perceived as having one of the best arms in the game, pitched in 10 games after his late August return. His was so-so -- three saves and a 5.74 ERA -- but the A's see him as a wild card who could give the club a bunch of innings if needed.

    For more on the A's, see John Hickey's Insider at blogs.ibabuzz.com/athletics. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JHickey3.