LEADING OFF: Opening day! Guardians debut, Ohtani and Braves
A look at what’s happening around the majors Thursday:
Cubs veteran Kyle Hendricks is set to deliver the first pitch of the season against Corbin Burnes and Milwaukee at Wrigley Field just past 2:20 p.m. EDT, the first of seven games still on the calendar amid rainy forecasts across the country.
Gerrit Cole and the Yankees had been set to start the season at home against the rival Red Sox, but New York announced Wednesday that the game was postponed with inclement weather in the forecast. Same for the Twins and their opener against visiting Seattle.
Still plenty on the docket, though. The World Series champion Atlanta Braves plan to raise a banner before hosting Cincinnati, and they’ll do it without fan favorite Freddie Freeman, who signed with the Dodgers last month. Los Angeles is among 12 teams that weren’t originally scheduled to open until Friday.
WELCOME TO THE SHOW
Plenty new around the majors this year, starting with the branding in Cleveland. The Guardians make their regular-season debut in Kansas City with ace Shane Bieber on the mound against Zack Greinke.
Cleveland will get the first, surely, of many looks at Bobby Witt Jr., baseball’s top prospect who forced his way into the Royals’ opening day lineup. A shortstop in the minors, Witt will play third base to start his big league career.
He’s one of several touted prospects told they’ll begin the season in the majors, including Seattle outfielder Julio Rodríguez, Detroit slugger Spencer Torkelson, Philadelphia shortstop Bryson Stott and Tampa Bay outfielder Josh Lowe. Cincinnati right-hander Hunter Greene — who was up to 104 mph at Triple-A last year — will start a game over the weekend.
Shohei Ohtani begins his AL MVP defense by pitching and hitting for the Angels against Houston — and he’ll be the only hurler asked to do both. A new rule allows the Los Angeles Angels star (and other pitchers, if they’re ever the designated hitter) to still bat after they’ve left the mound.
The DH was added to the National League this winter, creating 15 job opportunities for sluggers who aren’t exactly built to defend. Nelson Cruz signed a one-year deal with the Nationals and seems ready for another big season at 41 years old — he hit a grand slam in his final spring at-bat.
The new rule also cleared a spot for the Cardinals to bring back 42-year-old Albert Pujols for a farewell tour. St. Louis hosts the Pirates, with Adam Wainwright pitching to Yadier Molina for what could be the final time as those two players also ponder retirement after 2022.
Freeman’s replacement, Matt Olson, plays his first regular-season game with his hometown Braves after being acquired in a trade from Oakland. Kenley Jansen is Atlanta’s new closer.
The Cubs say Japanese star Seiya Suzuki has seemed remarkably comfortable in his first U.S. season. Chicago fans get to greet the 27-year-old outfielder, who slugged 38 homers last season in Japan’s Central League.
Starling Marte (Mets), Luke Voit (Padres), Mark Melancon (Diamondbacks), Andrew McCutchen (Brewers) and Andrelton Simmons (Cubs) are among other familiar faces set to make debuts after switching clubs.
DON’T SKIP ME
Buck Showalter, Bob Melvin and Oliver Marmol are among the managers with new teams this year.
The well-traveled Showalter leads the Mets against Washington at Nationals Park. Melvin left Oakland and now guides the San Diego Padres, who open at Arizona. Marmol manages his first regular-season game when the St. Louis Cardinals host Pittsburgh.
NOW HEAR THIS
For the first time, umpires will be given microphones to provide explanations following replay reviews this season. The change should eliminate some mystery — and maybe even some frustration — for fans who previously had to wait until after games to find out exactly what the crew was discussing with replay headquarters.
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