Duchscherer doesn't throw because of back problem

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Oakland Athletics pitcher Justin Duchscherer is off to a slow start at spring training.

The two-time All-Star, who missed all of last season after having surgery on his right elbow and being treated for clinical depression, didn't throw Sunday during the first workout for Oakland pitchers and catchers.

Duchscherer is feeling pain in his lower back and is likely to undergo some procedure Monday to treat the problem.

While Duchscherer missed out, oft-injured Ben Sheets was at work.

The four-time All-Star was pounding the strike zone, and the sound of his fastball hitting the catcher's mitt echoed during the Athletics' practice.

``Any baseball player is going to be excited about the start of a new season,'' Sheets said. ``You tend to get a little antsy as spring training draws near.''

Sheets will be one of the most closely watched pitchers of the spring as he returns from the right elbow surgery he underwent nearly a year ago to the day.

Sheets, who signed a one-year contract worth $10 million plus incentives in late January, wants to show he can still pitch.

``It was an alone year but that's in the past,'' Sheets said. ``I felt like I had a chance to get healthy and do other things in my life.''

Sheets grew up in the Milwaukee Brewers' organization, which has its spring training headquarters in another section of Phoenix.

``It was kind of strange putting on the green for the first time,'' said Sheets, who owns a major-league record of 86-83. ``When you're with one organization for so long, you tend to identify with that color. I even made a wrong turn out of where I stay the first day I was in town. Old habits die hard.''

Left-hander Dallas Braden, the Athletics' opening day starter last season, was also anxious to get going after having his season end prematurely with a foot injury.

``There's no way you can be disappointed entering spring training,'' said the animated Braden, who dealt with breathing issues all of last year in addition to his aches and pains. ``I was ready for this on Aug. 5, two days after I realized I wasn't going to pitch again. I started playing catch in late November. I wanted that feeling. I wanted to know I was still a baseball player.''

Braden underwent surgery to correct blockage in his nasal passages and has been able to sleep better ever since.

``There were days I would go workout where after 30 minutes I wanted to pass out,'' he said. ``But sleep is the biggest thing. It's taken a lot of weight off me mentally.''