Oakland A's

Ben Zobrist returns to A’s lineup as DH against Astros

Oakland Athletics' Ben Zobrist (18) slides to home plate to score on a Billy Butler double as Houston Astros catcher Jason Castro (15) waits for the ball in the sixth inning of a baseball game Tuesday, April 14, 2015, in Houston.
Oakland Athletics' Ben Zobrist (18) slides to home plate to score on a Billy Butler double as Houston Astros catcher Jason Castro (15) waits for the ball in the sixth inning of a baseball game Tuesday, April 14, 2015, in Houston. AP

Ben Zobrist is back in the A’s lineup for the first time since injuring his left knee last Sunday. Zobrist had one plate appearance as a pinch hitter Thursday in Los Angeles and the A’s are trying to ease him back into games by first using him as their designated hitter.

Zobrist was out running and taking fly balls before tonight’s game against the Houston Astros. He said the knee still "doesn’t feel super-comfortable," and he can feel himself compensating while running by putting more weight on his right leg.

"I might look like I’m a little awkward out there when I’m running," Zobrist said. "But hopefully I can get close to 100 percent out there speed-wise."

Manager Bob Melvin said the A’s want to see how Zobrist’s knee reacts to multiple at-bats tonight before considering when to put him back in the field. Melvin said Zobrist would likely play outfield first when he is ready to play defense, then return to second base after that.

"It’s going to be a progression with him," Melvin said.

With Zobrist at DH, Billy Butler, who started the first 17 games at DH, gets his first start at first base for the A’s. The lineup looks a little different as a result against Astros left-hander Dallas Keuchel:

SS Semien

LF Canha

DH Zobrist

1B Butler

RF Ross

3B Lawrie

C Phegley

CF Gentry

2B Sogard

And the Astros’ lineup against A’s left-hander Scott Kazmir:

2B Altuve

3B Valbuena

RF Springer

SS Lowrie

DH Gattis

1B Carter

CF Rasmus

C Conger

LF Grossman

* Two injured A’s had positive updates today. Closer Sean Doolittle, coming back from a shoulder injury, threw 15 pitches in a flat-ground bullpen session and said he felt as good as he has throwing at any point during his recovery.

"I can feel it getting stronger every time I throw and been able to stay in my mechanics all the way out to 120 feet and backspin the ball," Doolittle said. "It’s got good carry and everything right now. So very encouraging day, for sure."

Doolittle said he threw all his pitches -- fastball, changeup, slider -- and has also started playing with different grips, something pitchers normally do early in spring training. It’s a positive step because it has Doolittle thinking about the chess game aspect with hitters instead of just the tedium of rehabbing his injury.

"It’s early, but there’ve been some encouraging signs," Doolittle said of the adjustments. "It’s kind of a trial and error process so far, but we’re trying some new grips and stuff I haven’t tried before. So I think we have some stuff to build on for sure."

Doolittle will throw another flat-ground bullpen of 20 to 25 pitches on Sunday, he said. "They told me we’ll see how you come out of that, but if everything continues to go well we’ll look at getting off the mound soon," he said. "I don’t know what day, but soon."

* Jarrod Parker, meanwhile, made his first rehab start in a minor-league game Thursday night since his Tommy John surgery. Parker threw 3 2/3 innings for Single-A Stockton, allowing three runs on four hits with a strikeout and no walks. But he could hardly have cared less about the line.

"I had a blast," Parker said. "Gave up a homer, hit somebody, it was fun doing that stuff.

"I might not have been very sharp, my delivery was probably quick, but I was healthy enough to catch up and be where I wanted to be."

Parker said he threw 56 pitches and is settling in to his new repertoire after ditching his cutter. He has not thrown any sliders, but is working fastball-changeup-curveball. He said the plan is for him to pitch five innings in his next start, likely Tuesday.

"I’m feeling healthy enough and strong enough to make adjustments so I can get back a little bit and get back to a delivery I was really comfortable with," Parker said. "That’s what I was able to do (Thursday) and I’m happy with that."

* Melvin said Coco Crisp (elbow) took dry swings today and has been playing catch out to 75 feet. "He’ll resume that tomorrow," Melvin said. "He feels good."

Melvin did not share plans for the starting rotation after Monday. It will depend on Jesse Hahn, after Hahn left his last start with a blister.

Call The Bee’s Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015. See his baseball coverage at sacbee.com/mlb. Follow him on Twitter at @matthewkawahara.