OAKLAND -- Last year, Marlon Byrd was thrust into the cleanup spot late in the season after the Rangers decided to reduce designated hitter Sammy Sosa's playing time.
Byrd found himself in that role again Thursday night after Milton Bradley remained out of the lineup with a strained back. Bradley's availability for the entire four-game series against the Athletics is unknown.
Normally, manager Ron Washington drops Michael Young and Josh Hamilton into the No. 3 and No. 4 spots when Bradley is out. But Thursday, he decided to leave them second and third in the order.
"They just seem to fit better there," Washington said.
Washington is careful who he puts in the cleanup spot because he believes they'll get a high number of breaking balls. Byrd was given the assignment because of his Major League experience. Nelson Cruz was moved up to the fifth spot, but Washington doesn't seem ready to bat him cleanup right now.
"I'm not ready to put him under that kind of pressure," Washington said. "He's doing well and we want him to stay well. Move him into the fourth spot, and he'll see all kinds of junk. Where he is right now, he still might see some fastballs."
Washington also remains reluctant to move Chris Davis, a left-handed hitter, up in the order. He was batting in the eighth spot again Thursday, even though he went into the game hitting .273 with a .541 slugging percentage and 15 home runs in 242 at-bats.
"He's not ready," Washington said. "He's still learning. Remember, he's a year removed from Class A. We just want him to enjoy playing baseball. He doesn't need to feel that [pressure] ... let other guys feel that."
That's Washington's way of protecting Davis. In other ways, Washington is not protecting him. Thursday night was the second of six straight games in which the opposing team started a left-hander. Washington's plan is to keep Davis in the lineup all the way through. Only once this year has Washington taken Davis out of the lineup because he thought an opposing left-hander might be too tough for his rookie infielder.
Washington said the Rangers see Davis as an everyday player in the future, and he needs all the experience he can get against left-handed pitchers.
"He'll have to hang in there and battle, but I have nobody else to put out there," Washington said. "He's handled himself well. He needs to learn to go the other way against them [especially on the breaking ball], but the only way to do that is with experience."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.