PHOENIX -- If this were the 1800s and the Good Ship Elephant were leading the American League West Armada across the Atlantic, the skipper would have sat at his galley desk with a feather pen in hand and written the following by flickering candlelight:

Captain's Log, Day 1, March 26 -- Night is upon us, and less than 12 hours into a journey that began with such high hopes and high spirits among the men, the crew is preparing to bed down with heavy hearts. Young Justin, our most gifted but star-crossed deck hand, didn't even make it out of port, having quickly succumbed at the first sign of turbulent seas.

Here's the 2009 version of the same missive: The right elbow pain that prevented A's right-hander Justin Duchscherer from pitching in a game all spring until Thursday quickly returned almost immediately after he took the mound in a Minor League game at Papago Park. He couldn't even make it through an inning, and it's now virtually certain that he'll open the regular season on the disabled list.

"My arm still isn't right," Duchscherer told MLB.com. "I was fine warming up, but as soon as I started throwing at game speed, I knew I wasn't going to last long. It got worse on every pitch. I walked a guy and gave up two singles and a homer and just said, 'I can't pitch like this.'

"It's probably the most frustrated I've ever been since I started playing baseball."

The A's had their final day off in the desert on Thursday, so general manager Billy Beane flew to Santa Barbara for a business engagement. Reached by phone while waiting to catch a flight back to Phoenix, he said he'd spoken with assistant GM David Forst about Duchscherer's outing.

Beane said he couldn't confirm that Duchscherer would start the season on the DL, noting that it's a decision that ultimately will be made by the team's medical staff after more information is gathered.

He certainly sounded resigned to such a scenario, however. The A's had been holding out hope that they'd have Duchscherer ready to throw about 70 pitches by April 10, allowing him to start in Oakland's home opener. That assignment, Beane conceded, will now go to someone else.

"Needless to say, this is bad news," Beane said. "I can't say he'll definitely [start the season] on the DL, but it's certainly fair to say that it's likely under the circumstances."

Duchscherer, who made the AL All-Star team for the second time in 2008, his first year as a starting pitcher after serving as one of Oakland's top relievers for the previous four years, was despondent while discussing his latest setback.

"It's hard to even think about, much less talk about," he said. "All I want to do is help this team win, and for whatever reason, my body keeps preventing me from doing that. I really don't know what else to say."

With Duchscherer out for the foreseeable future, the A's essentially have four spots in their starting rotation available; Beane suggested Tuesday that lefty Dallas Braden has a spot secured.

A team source said righty Sean Gallagher, lefty Dana Eveland and top prospects Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill are the front-runners to fill the remaining spots, but lefty Josh Outman and righty Edgar Gonzalez are technically still in the hunt.

Asked if he might consider looking outside the organization for rotation help, Beane said, "Not at this point. The strength of our organization is young pitching, so we're going to stick with the development of that strength at this point in time."