It's been nice to start things off on the right foot, especially compared to last year, when we had a rough stretch to kick off the season.

The season is very young, but a strong start is a real positive. If we can build on this and keep it going for a little while, we can put ourselves in a good position.

We finished relatively strong last year, and we're trying to carry that into this season. Our team sort of changed personalities around midseason last year. We became more of a "small ball" club. We ran a lot more, and we came to Spring Training with that kind of mentality.

Offensively, we know we're going to have to manufacture runs and that we can't rely on smashing the ball like Oakland teams have done in the past. We know now, and we've known all offseason, that there would be a heavy emphasis on pitching and defense. It seems like everyone is on the same page and prepared well for that in the offseason and Spring Training.

It was tremendous to add Ben Sheets over the winter as a free agent and to get Justin Duchscherer back. They're both big keys to our rotation. They give us leadership to help some of our other young pitchers come along and mature as big league pitchers.

Our young pitchers also have another year under their belts. That's a big deal. We remain very young as a group, and all the experience we can get will help.

Sheets is a phenomenal competitor, and he's a great guy to have in our clubhouse. He's someone we lacked last year -- a true No. 1 starter, a true ace. Dallas Braden was pushed into that role last year, and he pitched his tail off for us. But it's nice to be able to rely on a guy like Sheets, who has eight or nine years in the big leagues. He is an All-Star on several occasions, and he is a guy who commanded respect as soon as he came in.

And it's wonderful to have Justin back. He's a great personality to have in the clubhouse, and he's very comfortable in the A's system. We've seen flashes of brilliance from him on the mound -- which gives us hope that our team will be even stronger than we think it is. He can be a No. 1 or a No. 2 on a lot of teams.

We need those guys more than ever right now because our pitching depth is being tested with five pitchers on the disabled list. We should get Michael Wuertz and Joey Devine back within the next month. It will be a little longer for Trevor Cahill.

Guys are nicked up and beat up a little now, but we aren't far from getting our full group back together. We're very confident in our group.

Brad Ziegler has already made five appearances out of the bullpen this season for Oakland, which is off to a 6-4 start in the competitive American League West. In 121 career appearances, all with Oakland, the sidearmer from Pratt, Kan., has a 2.29 ERA, five wins and 18 saves.