New-look Angels provide unique Cincinnati opener

Josh Hamilton is back where it all started.

The outfielder got a standing ovation for his pinch-hit

appearance at Great American Ball Park on opening day 2007, a

moment that completed his comeback from years of drug abuse. He’ll

get another grand introduction on Monday when his new team, the Los

Angeles Angels, opens against the Reds.

It’ll feel a bit like home.

”I mean, that’s where I started to learn how to be a

professional,” Hamilton said. ”That’s where my wife learned how

to deal with fans, media, raising kids and baseball culture.

”So there will always be a special feeling. Obviously there’s a

lot of memories there, just because of all my `firsts’ happened

there – my first at-bat, hit, RBI, home run, throwing somebody

out.”

Having Hamilton dig into the batter’s box will be one of the few

familiar things about a most unusual opener. For the first time in

major league history, the season is starting with an interleague

game.

”It is very strange,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said. ”This

usually doesn’t happen until June or July. This adds even more

importance to your interleague record. I point out to my team every

year that it is at least 10 percent of your schedule. It’s huge.

Those games could mean the difference between going to the playoffs

or not.”

Temperatures in the 40s with occasional rain were predicted.

Jered Weaver (20-5) makes his fourth straight opening day start for

the Angels against Johnny Cueto (19-9), who is fully recovered from

an injury to his side during the playoffs last season.

The two teams have taken much different paths in trying to get

to the playoffs.

The Reds kept their roster virtually intact from the team that

won 97 games and the NL Central last season. After winning the

first two playoff games in San Francisco, the Reds dropped the next

three at home to the eventual World Series champions.

They’ve brought back the starting rotation and the back of the

bullpen. Only two changes in the starting lineup: Shin-Soo Choo is

playing center and batting leadoff, while Todd Frazier takes over

full-time at third base, where he filled in a lot as a rookie.

”We look really great on paper,” reliever Sam LeCure said.

”We have a lot of guys coming back from last year. The

acquisitions that we made – bringing (reliever Jonathan) Broxton

back and bringing in Choo – we think they are going to pay huge

dividends.”

For Cincinnati, it’s not about the first cold game in April but

those chilly ones in late October. They haven’t won a playoff

series since 1995.

”I want to get to the next round of the playoffs,” second

baseman Brandon Phillips said. ”I want to start there.”

The Angels just want to get there. Unlike the Reds, they decided

to spend a lot of money and make significant changes. The biggest

was signing Hamilton for $125 million, adding to an already

formidable lineup that includes Albert Pujols, Mark Trumbo and Mike

Trout, the AL Rookie of the Year.

The Angels haven’t been to the playoffs for the last three

years, their longest drought since Mike Scioscia took over as

manager in 2000.

It would be helpful if Pujols could have a better April this

time around. He opened last season with the longest home run

drought of his career, going 33 games and 139 at-bats before

connecting. In the offseason, he had surgery on his right knee. He

hit three homers in the spring but was bothered by a sore left

foot, which has had plantar fasciitis during his career.

”Albert’s ability to play first base (every day) is purely

contingent on how his foot feels,” Scioscia said. ”His knee feels

great right now, so it’s not going to be an issue. He’s a Gold

Glove-caliber first baseman and he’ll have enough mobility to be a

defensive presence there. We’re confident of that.”

NOTES: The Reds made their final bullpen moves on Sunday,

sending right-handed relievers Logan Ondrusek and Jose Arredondo to

the minors. They chose to keep left-hander Manny Parra and

right-hander Alfredo Simon. INF Cesar Izturis made the team as a

backup. … It’ll be the third time in the last five years that the

Reds had below-average temperatures for their opener. It was 37

degrees and rainy in 2009, 41 degrees and cloudy in 2011. … If

Weaver gets a plate appearance, he will be the first AL starter to

bat on opening day since Pat Dobson (Orioles) and Mel Stottlemyre

(Yankees) on April 16, 1972. … Angels pitchers are 1 for 27 on

opening day, with Andy Messersmith’s single in 1970 accounting for

the only hit.

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