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Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Tom Milone (57) delivers against the Sacramento River Cats in the first inning of an exhibition game at Raley Field in Sacramento, Calif., on Saturday, March 31, 2012. (Ray Chavez/Staff)

After the A's returned from their season-opening trip to Japan, the primary item on their agenda was catching up on much-needed sleep.

Mission accomplished.

Now their three-game exhibition series against the Giants, which begins Monday, allows them to take stock of all they learned during spring training while also addressing important remaining issues, most notably identifying their first baseman.

It's an awkward time for the A's, as they resume exhibitions after playing two regular-season games last week against Seattle at the Tokyo Dome.

But the schedule doesn't bother manager Bob Melvin.

"I'm OK with it," Melvin said. "We go back to the spring training atmosphere again, we get our rest, and once we get back in the regular season, we're in our normal routine."

The A's reported to camp Feb. 18 with three-fifths of their starting rotation needing to be replaced, because of the offseason trades of Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez and a shoulder injury to Dallas Braden.

How well the rotation holds up remains a question mark. But one of the A's more promising developments during the spring was the emergence of lefty Tom Milone, who secured the No. 3 starter spot.

Milone's 1-1 record and 4.97 ERA in four Cactus League starts does not reflect how well he pitched, nor does it include his five shutout innings in an exhibition against the Yomiuri Giants or the six perfect innings he threw against Triple-A Sacramento on Saturday.


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"The first day I caught him, I think I could have caught him with my eyes closed," catcher Kurt Suzuki said. "Everywhere I put my glove, he threw it there. That's impressive for a young pitcher."

Tyson Ross, the former Bishop O'Dowd High and Cal star, looks to have sewn up the fourth rotation spot. Graham Godfrey starts Monday against the Giants, and he's the front-runner for the No. 5 spot.

The A's also began camp needing a replacement for two-time All-Star closer Andrew Bailey. Melvin tapped Grant Balfour over Brian Fuentes for the role, somewhat of a gamble given that Balfour never has served as a full-time closer.

Sorting out the starting outfield was a major task after Cuban free agent Yoenis Cespedes signed a four-year contract March 3. The A's opted to slot Cespedes in center and shift Coco Crisp to left field, a move Crisp was not thrilled about. It's worth watching how both perform in those positions.

It appears the A's will go with converted catcher Josh Donaldson as the regular third baseman after Scott Sizemore suffered a season-ending knee injury during the first full-squad workout. Donaldson hit just .231 in Cactus League play but has gradually looked better defensively.

Melvin did start the left-handed-hitting Eric Sogard at third in the season opener against Seattle right-hander Felix Hernandez.

"Those guys know how it's going to play out," Melvin said. "I told Josh he wasn't going to get the first day but that I looked at him as the starter."

First base remains unsettled, with the A's wanting to evaluate the Giants series before choosing between Brandon Allen and Kila Ka'aihue, who each drew a start against the Mariners in Tokyo.

Melvin maintains Daric Barton remains in the mix as well, but Barton still is having problems throwing after coming off shoulder surgery.

The first base call is crucial, as Allen and Ka'aihue are out of minor league options. The A's would have to pass one of them through waivers -- and risk losing the player to another team -- before sending him to the minors. Trading one of them isn't out of the question.

It's also unclear how the middle of the batting order will take shape, and the A's might not hash that out until well past the Bay Bridge series.

Cespedes hit seventh and sixth, respectively, in the Tokyo series, but Melvin anticipates moving him up in the order once he gets more acclimated to major league pitching.

Questions the A's have answered
The rotation: Tom Milone and Tyson Ross enjoyed solid springs to help fill holes on the starting staff.
Yoenis Cespedes: The A's installed the highly touted outfielder in center and slid Coco Crisp over to left field.
Grant Balfour: The eight-year veteran gets his first crack at being a full-time closer, replacing Andrew Bailey.
Questions the A's are still waiting to answer
First base: Will Brandon Allen or Kila Ka'aihue grab the reins and claim this job as his own?
Batting order: Who will the 3-4-5 hitters be, and where will Cespedes eventually fit in?
Josh Donaldson: Is the converted catcher going to be a legitimate solution at third base?