Thomas sidelined until doctors check ankle MRI

PHOENIX -- Frank Thomas arrived at Oakland Athletics spring training Thursday but it will still be a while before his new teammates get to see the Big Hurt in a game.

Thomas won't be able to take part in workouts until the team's doctors check out an MRI exam of his surgically repaired left ankle, and he said he plans to spend most of the spring hitting in "B" games with minor-leaguers.

"They are going to take me real slow," he said. "I'll get my time in the back fields with the minor-league guys getting at-bats. That's great with me because I'll get a lot more work in instead of getting three or four at-bats in regular games. I'll spend more time on the back fields getting my eye going and timing.

"I'm going to take these at-bats seriously on the back field. As we get close to Opening Day, if they want to mix me in that's fine. I'll be ready to go," he said.

That appeared to surprise manager Ken Macha, who added that keeping Thomas healthy this spring is the primary goal.

"I would prefer that he play to see how he did," Macha said. "But if he comes up here I'm sure we'll be up here with him to see how he does. If playing in one of those games will jeopardize his health, then it's better that he not play."

Thomas' health was the big question when he was a free agent this offseason. After the Chicago White Sox declined to offer him salary arbitration in December, Thomas had to wait until late last month to find a new team.

He signed an incentive-laden deal with Oakland that guarantees him $500,000 and could be worth up to $3.1 million if his ankle stays healthy and he reaches certain level of plate appearances.

Thomas had only 345 at-bats his last two seasons with the White Sox, when he was dealing with ankle injuries. He missed the last three months in 2004 before undergoing offseason surgery.

He came back May 30 last season and played 34 games before being shut down for the season with another broken bone in his ankle, leaving him to watch the White Sox win their first World Series since 1917.

"I'm not prone [to injuries] at all," he said. "I had an unfortunate injury and I was surgically repaired. I chose to come back maybe a month too soon. Now it's feeling a lot better. The point I'm at now is a little better than it was when I returned last year."

Thomas did have some success in his brief time playing last season, hitting 12 homers in 105 at-bats for the White Sox. But he batted a career-low .219 and his on-base percentage of .315 was more than 100 points lower than his career mark of .427.

He attributes part of that to changes he made because he couldn't run the bases and said he expects to hit between .285 and .305 this season.

"I didn't want to get on base too much," he said. "I was in a lot of pain last year. I wanted to help the team the best way I could and that was hitting ball out of the ballpark."

Thomas, a two-time AL MVP who has 448 career home runs, turns 38 in May. He would like to play until he is 41 or 42 years old and thinks he still can be a productive player.

"I know I'm going to provide for the team I'm on," he said. "Bottom line, I've done it my whole career. If I'm healthy, you're going to have a special player on your team."

Thomas hasn't been cleared to run yet and hasn't even hit in a cage or off a tee since July. He said he puts a lot of stress on his left foot when hitting, which is why he has taken precautions to make sure the ankle has healed.

Thomas said it will take six weeks -- which will be into the first week of the season -- to get back to full speed with the bat after such a long break. But he doesn't envision any problems returning to his usual level.

"Hitting is something I've been doing since I was a kid," he said. "Give me a few days and I will feel pretty comfortable. I will be ready to go. I'm concerned about that."

Thomas still has lingering bitterness about the way his 16-year tenure in Chicago ended, saying the team should have called him to tell him he was being cut loose. He said he's getting past that now but wasn't ready to join his old teammates at the White House earlier
this month to celebrate the World Series title.

"I was still a little uncomfortable going and being around everybody after everything that happened," he said. "I couldn't go there and act like everything was fine, because it wasn't fine in my eyes. The chapter had to close a little better than that."

White Sox general manager Kenny Williams said last month that the team tried its best to make sure Thomas' relationship ended in a "first-class manner."