Cahill named OD starter; Barton out with leg soreness

Following weeks of speculation, A’s manager Bob Geren announced Thursday morning that righty Trevor Cahill has been awarded the starting nod for the club’s Opening Night meeting with the Mariners on April 1.

“Trevor was, in my mind, going to start Opening Day, if everything went well physically, for the entire offseason,” Geren said. “I liked what he did last year. I liked his demeanor on the mound. The mental side of the game that he takes out there each time makes him ideal to start any game of the year. If there’s a little extra hoopla and flyovers and fireworks on Opening Night, he’s the perfect guy to handle that.”

Cahill, 23, wasn’t even on the A’s Opening Day roster last year. Rather, he began the season on the disabled list, where he spent a couple of weeks nursing a stress reaction near his left scapula. Following a brief stint at Triple-A Sacramento, where he made two starts, he was called up to fill in for the injured Brett Anderson. By season’s end, he was an All-Star hurler garnering Cy Young talk.

Cahill pitched to a 2.97 ERA and 18-8 record in 30 starts, which ranked him fourth in the American League in wins. That number represented the most by an A’s starter since Mark Mulder captured 17 in 2004, and it marked the first time a pitcher aged 22 years or younger won 18 games since Brett Saberhagen went 20-6 for Kansas City as a 21-year-old in 1985.

The young righty will go on five days of rest and face Seattle ace Felix Hernandez at the Oakland Coliseum a week from Friday. In five career starts against the Mariners, Cahill is 1-3 with a 2.95 ERA and has struck out 16 through 30 2/3 total innings. Geren has yet to decide who will follow him in the rotation.

“I think the goal is just to take it as any other start,” the soft-spoken Cahill said. “I think, regardless, your first start of the season, everyone is going to have a little bit of adrenaline, so I just need to make sure that’s in check.”

Cahill was part of a 2010 starting staff that led the Majors with a 3.47 ERA, which represented the lowest such mark by an American League team since 1990, when Boston compiled a 3.32 ERA. All four key members of that rotation — Cahill, Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Braden — have returned, and Geren noted he would have felt comfortable handing any one of them the esteemed start.

“He was obviously honored and happy to get that nod, but I also told him that all of our pitchers are very good,” Geren said. “They’re all similar as far as age and experience, so I told him to not take it as any added pressure whatsoever. Take it as a compliment, but don’t do anything different than if you were pitching the second game or the third or fourth. Just be yourself, and he completely understood and agreed with that.”

Said Cahill: “There are a bunch of guys to choose from. Everyone had a good year, so I think it’s about lining things up. I know [Geren] feels confident in winning with whoever he puts out there, so I don’t think it’s a huge deal, just an honor more than anything.”

Morning tidbits: Tyson Ross will start today’s road contest against the D-Backs, and Bobby Cramer will follow. At this point, it seems both are essentially fighting for the long-relief spot in the bullpen since Brandon McCarthy appears to be the front runner in the fifth-starter battle. … McCarthy will start tomorrow’s home game against the Angels, and Dallas Braden will go in a Minor League game. … Daric Barton is out with leg soreness, but Geren said it’s nothing serious and he’s simply day-to-day right now. … Rich Harden threw from 120 feet today and felt good, Geren said. He’ll likely do long toss one more time before pitching from flat ground and making his way back on the mound.

Lineup: Ellis 2B, Suzuki C, DeJesus RF, Jackson 1B, Matsui LF, Kouz 3B, Carson CF, Pennington SS, Ross P

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