Balfour throws from the mound
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PHOENIX, Ariz -- Oakland Athletics closer Grant Balfour returned to the mound for the first time since undergoing a lateral meniscectomy to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. He threw a bullpen on the back field at Phoenix Municipal Stadium prior to the A's game against the Giants.  

Balfour saw a doctor on Thursday to determine if he could return to the mound, and his right knee apparently passed the tests. The fact that Balfour has returned to the mound just 15 days after surgery gives the A's reason to be optimistic that he'll be ready by opening day on April 1.

"Sitting here right now, yeah," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "You hate to get ahead of yourself, but the progression at this point would suggest that."

The next step for the right-handed pitcher will be throwing a couple of live batting practice sessions to hitters. If he gets through that without issue, he will start being worked into Cactus League games.

Balfour has been working extremely hard in his rehabilitation from the minor knee procedure. He was already walking the day after the surgery. He played catch just five days after the procedure, and appears to be ahead of the 4-6 week time table he was initially given.

Balfour threw a career-high 74 2/3 innings last season. He had a 2.53 ERA and 24 saves in 2012.