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Inside Baseball / By Mike Harrington: Spring freefalls can make for long summers

The old saying goes that you can’t really win anything in April, but you sure can lose a lot. Several teams have already found themselves in a bad place in the season’s opening month. Time may be on their side to climb out of a hole but that time is hardly unlimited.

“You can’t say it’s early forever,” Cleveland second baseman Jason Kipnis told Tribe radio announcer and Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Jim Rosenhaus last week. “We play like this for another month, it’ll be too late.”

Kipnis has a point. When the Royals bludgeoned the Tribe, 11-5, on Tuesday, Cleveland fell to 6-13 overall and 1-6 at home. Eagle-eyed friend of this corner Chris Assenheimer of the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram pointed out those were the same records Cleveland had through 19 games in 1987. The connection? In ’87 and this year, Sports Illustrated picked Cleveland to win the World Series. In ’87, the Tribe finished 61-101 in its lone year as a Bisons affiliate in War Memorial Stadium. 

Here’s some quick impressions of a crazy first month:

• Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright: After a season-ending Achilles tendon injury, the ace became a lightning rod for the DH/no DH debate. But when he met St. Louis reporters a couple of days after the injury in Milwaukee, Wainwright made it clear where he stood – the AL should drop the DH.

“Baseball, the strategy and the game itself in the National League is just a better game, in my opinion,” he said. “I hope that people don’t look at this – which I know they already are – and think that we should switch to a DH now. Baseball is a beautiful game. I just hope it doesn’t change too much.

“Listening to the doctors, there is no reason it happened. It wasn’t like it was an incredibly weak tendon. It could have happened doing anything – I could have been carrying my daughter up the stairs and it happened. So you outlaw carrying your daughter up the stairs? Or outlaw covering first? Outlaw fielding a bunt? It was a fluke thing, and baseball needs to stay just the way it is.”

• Yankees: They wanted no part of A-Rod – and still want no part of acknowledging his milestones or paying his contractual bonuses for them. It seems he’s a huge part of their offense, whether they like it or not. But will it matter? CC Sabathia, who’s likely to pitch Wednesday in Toronto, is already 0-4 and Masahiro Tanaka is on the disabled list.

• Royals: They look like they could go to the World Series again. But seemingly everyone there will hate them for it. Teams aren’t happy with KC’s brashness on the field, which the Royals insist is them simply protecting their turf. The bullpen remains ridiculous and had the Royals’ defensive runs saved through Thursday at an MLB-high 28. The Blue Jays were second – with nine.

• Blue Jays: Speaking of the Bisons’ parent, it’s still hard to figure starting the season with six rookies in a year that would appear to be a final referendum on General Manager Alex Anthopoulos and manager John Gibbons. Daniel Norris and Dalton Pompey were both sent back to Buffalo on Friday and failed closer Miguel Castro could be next.

• Padres: They went into the weekend around .500 but had the most runs in the National League, one season after their .226 team batting average was the worst in the NL since 1972. And who entered the weekend tied for the fewest runs in the NHL? The moribund Phillies and the defending World Series champion Giants.  

• Brushbacks: Is it me or does it seem like there’s more plunkings and more behind-the-back throws than normal? The Royals-White Sox brawl was the biggest conflagration, but some other stuff is brewing. Giants ace Madison Bumgarner had a theory about the situation.

“I guarantee you some of the things you’re seeing in the American League wouldn’t happen if pitchers had to hit,” Bumgarner said. “They’d be a whole lot more polite.”

• Cubs manager Joe Maddon: He’s spinning off beauties in Chicago just like he did in Tampa Bay. Said Maddon after taking two of three last week from the Pirates: “Anytime you meatloaf the other team in a series, you’ll take it.”

• Orioles: Give peace a chance. 

• Big holes: The Brewers had their worst start ever at 2-13 and entered the weekend 5-18 and 11½ games out. The Phillies entered it eight while the Rangers were 7½ back and needing a lot more than Josh Hamilton to help them out.

• Biggest surprise: Astros. They hit the weekend tied with the Royals for the AL’s best record. They’re 10-2 on the road. They’re getting more great offense from batting champ Jose Altuve and stellar pitching from Dallas Keuchel and ex-Bison Colin McHugh, who entered Saturday 10-0 over his last 14 starts. A huge surprise in center field is former Blue Jays prospect Jake Marisnick. 

Among their oddities was last week’s 5-4 win at Oakland that was scoreless through nine innings. Both teams scored twice in the 10th, the Astros added three in the top of the 11th but held on as the A’s scored two in the bottom of the 11th. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first time in history a scoreless game saw both teams get at least two runs in each half of a 10th and 11th frame.

• Pace of play: According to, games are nearly nine minutes shorter than last season, which would be the biggest decrease since 1963. Good early signs from umps speeding things up.

Life before baseball

The entire Hamilton situation is hard to fathom as it created the weirdest trade of the month. Yes, he obviously had another relapse and the Angels felt like their $125 million investment was compromised. Owner Arte Moreno clearly took it as a personal affront, and the team making it all so public seems to totally fly in the face of the confidentiality clauses of baseball’s drug policy. The Angels dumped him for pretty much nothing and agreed to pay roughly $65 million of his remaining money. Wow.

But now that Hamilton was back in Texas, even he admitted it was a mistake for him to leave and chase the money in Anaheim. I was there for many of Hamilton’s great moments with the Rangers: The memorable 2008 Home Run Derby outburst in old Yankee Stadium, the World Series showings in 2010 and ’11, topped by the 10th-inning home run in Game Six in St. Louis that looked like it would produce the franchise’s first championship until David Freese got in the way.

I spent 20 minutes with Hamilton on Media Day in San Francisco in 2010. Somehow, there was only one other reporter at his table as we spoke. 

“I’m on this stage for a reason,” Hamilton told me that day. “I was allowed to come back from everything I’ve gone through for a reason. I’m sure there will be some tears flowing when the lineups are announced.”

This looks like final-chance time for Hamilton in baseball. But you hope he figures out his life too. He’s apparently going through a divorce. His support system, air-tight in Texas, broke down in California. He never should have left. The Rangers appear to be his last hope.

Let the sunshine in

A quick April thought on the homefront: After yet another brutally cold April, it’s become plainly clear the Bisons should consider playing the majority of their home games for the season’s first month in the afternoon. And that’s even on weekdays. 

Some games, naturally, will have to stay at night due to travel rules, such as Monday’s series opener against Norfolk. But there’s no reason Tuesday and Wednesday’s games against the Tides, played at night in brutal conditions, shouldn’t have been played in the warmer afternoon sun.

The team heard complaints a few years ago from season ticket-holders about a run of April day games but my answer to that is to ignore the chatter. The season seat-holders didn’t come at night so their gripes aren’t valid. There were only a couple hundred diehards in the park last week at night. Thursday afternoon, when it was sunny and quite a bit warmer, there were easily around 1,000 or so folks in the stands.

That’s no different than any Triple-A city in April. Play the games in the sunshine. More people will stop over, you’ll sell more hot dogs and the baseball will be much better because batters won’t be frozen in the box.