Los Angeles Angels pitchers have an extra element to add to their preparation for the first series of the season: hitting.
For the first time since the inception of the designated hitter in 1973, an American League team's pitchers will be hitting on Opening Day. With the Houston Astros' move to the AL leaving 15 teams in each league and mandating an interleague game every day, the Angels happen to be the AL team that opens up with an interleague series, in Cincinnati.
Angels pitchers started bunting midway through spring training. A week later, they started taking batting practice.
"You've got to do what you've got to do," said Jered Weaver, the Angels' Opening Day starter. "You don't really have a choice. We've got to prepare, and that's what we're doing."
The Angels play 10 games in National League parks this season, three in Cincinnati in April, two at Dodger Stadium in May, two at Chicago's Wrigley Field in July, and three in Milwaukee over Labor Day weekend.
The complication of that is that pitchers are going to be starting and stopping their hitting work all year, rather than bunching the games together. The starting pitchers will have their at-bats weeks or months apart.
"It's weird because it's broken up," said C.J. Wilson, who is scheduled to start the second game in Cincinnati. "It allows you to get into more of a rhythm (when the games are together). Hitters have spring training to get used to guys throwing 93-94 (mph), and we don't."
Weaver said the pitchers have fun with batting practice, but not too much fun.
"You have to take it seriously," he said. "You don't know when your spot is going to come up in the lineup. You have to help the team. You have to work at it and take it seriously. What we do in a National League park could really help us win."