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Baseball 2013

Teams prepare for interleague games regularly

On a windy morning at spring training, three Phillies catchers met behind the batting cage to shoot the breeze.

The topic? Interleague intrigue, right from the get-go.

“We were just talking about that in batting practice that it’s a little weird to face the American League so early,” All-Star Carlos Ruiz said. “But it’s a different schedule this year.”

Sure is.

Josh Hamilton and the Los Angeles Angels visit Cincinnati in an opener that’s hardly traditional. Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and the Detroit Tigers finish the season at Miami – minus a designated hitter.

Derek Jeter and the Yankees cross over to the National League each month, then are host to World Series champion San Francisco in late September. Just a guess – New York fans will howl at the prospect of seeing Matt Cain and the pitching-rich Giants if a playoff spot is at stake.

Add up the scattered AL vs. NL matchups, it’s like a mini-World Series most every day.

“It’s going to be totally different,” said Houston manager Bo Porter, one of six new skippers in the majors.

Might as well blame Porter’s Astros, too. Their shift from the NL Central to the AL West left 15 teams in each league, creating all this havoc.

Opening day is tonight in Houston when Texas comes to town.

That’s followed by Angels-Reds on Monday. Friday, Philadelphia plays its home opener against the Kansas City Royals.

Just sounds jarring, doesn’t it?

“It is very strange,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said. “This usually doesn’t happen until June or July.”

“What it does is it increases your workload on scouting, advance reports and things like that. You don’t have a lot of familiarity on those teams,” he said.

Part of baseball’s changing landscape, Commissioner Bud Selig says.

“I’m very protective of interleague play, but everybody convinced me it that would work from Day 1, and I’m satisfied it will,” he said.

“We have to quit worrying about it. We play 162 games. The season is a long journey. It’s not a sprint. When the year is over, everybody has played everybody else. When you play it is no reason not to do something,” he said.

So now teams are figuring out how to prepare for this funny season. Previously, Porter said, it was easy to plan for blocks of interleague games.

“A lot of times, a National League team would call up a DH-type guy during that segment of their schedule,” he said. “Now, that’s hard to do because you’re going to have interleague taking place the entire course of the season. It definitely changes roster construction.”

Porter has his pitchers in the cage, working on their bunting. Too soon for Justin Verlander and the Tigers’ staff to swing away.

“We’ll have to hit some, but it’s a Catch-22 because I don’t want Verlander breaking his finger,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said.

As for his AL Central champions closing on the road against the Marlins, “whatever is good for baseball,” Leyland said.

“We have a designated hitter in the All-Star game, instant replay. Things change, and if it is good for the game, I am all for it,” he said.

The Tigers, Boston, Toronto and Seattle each play at NL parks in September, leaving them a hitter short. For that reason, Leyland suggests interleague games down the stretch should he played at AL parks.

“It’s definitely an advantage for the National League,” Leyland said. “It works out more advantageous to them. I think eventually they’ll go uniform.”

Adds Rays manager Joe Maddon: “It’s going to be clunky at the end.”

Baltimore doesn’t play its first NL road games until Memorial Day but has eight straight out West in August. Orioles catcher Matt Wieters figures he’ll spend more time “going over scouting reports on new hitters we haven’t seen.”

St. Louis doesn’t see an AL opponent until it plays Kansas City in late May. But the Royals go to Philadelphia and Atlanta in the first 2 1/2 weeks.

When interleague play started in 1997, Cardinals pitcher Jake Westbrook said, “it was something new and it seemed odd to a lot of people. The DH, same thing with that longer ago.”

“The idea of interleague play most every day, this is something else new. That’s always been a question with interleague play – it’s unbalanced, who plays who,” he said.

Baker is hoping for an early edge when the Angels’ Albert Pujols arrives.

“In the case of us playing the Angels, does Albert not play? Does he DH? I wouldn’t mind if Albert just spectated,” he said. “He’d be a mean pinch hitter. He’s probably greasing his glove right now.”

Also this season:

•Along with Porter, the new managers are John Gibbons in Toronto, Terry Francona in Cleveland, John Farrell in Boston, Mike Redmond in Miami and Walt Weiss in Colorado.

•Major League Baseball didn’t expand replay this year. Tags, plays at first base, traps – no consensus yet on what to review or how to do it.

•The Mets host the All-Star game at Citi Field on July 16. It’s been awhile since the showcase was played in Queens – Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays got top billing at Shea Stadium in 1964.

•Former MVPs Miguel Tejada (Royals) and Jason Giambi (Indians) earned spots. Tejada was out of the majors last year.