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Originally published Saturday, July 21, 2012 at 8:05 PM

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Surprise — Oakland Athletics are American League contenders

It was supposed to be a rebuilding season, but the A's are still in the race and have several injured players about to return.

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In what was supposed to be a rebuilding season — and a challenging one, at that — the Oakland A's have emerged as surprise contenders.

When Brandon Hicks' first career homer was a game-winner on Wednesday night, it gave the A's a 10-2 record in July and moved them within a half-game of a wild-card spot. They have a major-league-leading nine walkoff wins.

And it could get better for the A's, as some of their most established pitchers are starting to come back. Brandon McCarthy (right shoulder) threw a 25-pitch bullpen session with "no issues" on Wednesday and might be close to returning. Brett Anderson (Tommy John surgery) was scheduled to begin a rehab assignment Saturday and Dallas Braden (shoulder surgery) hopes to begin a rehab assignment when the A's return home July 30.

There's a chance the A's could expand to a six-man rotation. And don't be surprised if Billy Beane pulls an unexpected move or two at the trade deadline.

A sure sign White Sox

need pitching help

One reason the White Sox might be looking for veteran pitching help: In their first game after the All-Star break, they became the first team ever to pitch eight rookies in a game, according to Elias.

Jose Quinanta started, followed, in succession, by Brian Omogrosso, Nate Jones, Leyson Septimo, Jhan Marinez, Hector Santiago, Addison Reed and Dylan Axelrod. The only veteran used in the game was left-hander Matt Thornton.

"This certainly wasn't the way we drew it up, I'll assure you that," White Sox assistant general manager Rick Hahn told the Chicago Tribune.

The White Sox do have some veteran help on the way internally. Philip Humber was activated from the DL on Tuesday, and Gavin Floyd might be back as soon as Monday.

Greinke skipped after

being "out of whack"

In the midst of rampant speculation about whether he'll be traded, Zack Greinke will go 10 days between starts. He was held out of Wednesday's scheduled start because the team felt Greinke got "out of whack" by starting three consecutive games.

What happened was that Greinke got ejected in the first inning of a game July 7. He volunteered to start the next day — the final game before the All-Star break — and gave up three runs in the first, eventually struggling through three innings in which he threw 66 pitches.

The Brewers started Greinke in the first game after the All-Star break last Friday, and gave up seven hits and six runs (five earned) in five innings against Pittsburgh.

"He didn't feel the same; he just didn't feel right," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke told The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "We kind of got him out of his routine."

Greinke, who is believed to be healthy, will next pitch Tuesday against the Phillies. He would have one more scheduled start after that before the July 31 trade deadline.

Royals would like

to have this deal back

Worst trade of the offseason? It's looking like the one on Nov. 7, in which the Royals sent outfielder Melky Cabrera to the Giants for pitchers Jonathan Sanchez and Ryan Verdugo.

Cabrera was the MVP in the All-Star Game and leads the National League in hits. Sanchez was designated for assignment after getting shelled by the Mariners last week, then traded to the Rockies for another underachieving pitcher, Jeremy Guthrie. Sanchez was 1-6 with a 7.75 ERA with the Royals.

"Based on all of the information we had at the time," Royals GM Dayton Moore told The Kansas City Star, "and where we were economically — and opening up an opportunity (in center field) for Lorenzo Cain — it was the right baseball move for our team.

"We were a better team, on balance and on paper, when we made that deal. You want them all to work out (for both teams), but most of the time they don't — unfortunately. It's just part of the business, and you move on."

Notes

• It will be interesting to see if the Pirates, looking more and more like a legitimate contender, will deal one of their elite pitching prospects — Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon — to get some stretch-drive help. They have shown interest in both Justin Upton and Billy Butler.

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