Elements play a big role in how baseball is played in April

Updated: April 21, 2009

AP Photo/H. Rumph Jr.

The weather across baseball can be unpredictable in April. And it can cause all kinds of trouble.

APRIL ANGUISH

Poor weather can certainly be a big factor when players struggle in April, but sometimes it's about learning what parts of your game to focus on.

When I was with the Dodgers in 1979 and won the Rookie of the Year, and then when I was with Cleveland in 1982 and won the ERA title, I started the year in the bullpen because I didn't have a good spring training and I didn't get off to a good start in April.

The reason, for me, was that I got my fastball ready, but my breaking ball was a bit behind. I had a conversation with Don Drysdale about it, and he said hitters are generally ready to hit fastballs at the start of the season, but they aren't always ready to hit breaking stuff. So if you have your breaking ball ready and can locate it, then you are probably going to be in good shape. That's what turned me around, being able to command my breaking ball early in the season rather than worrying so much about my fastball.

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As soon as I started going three innings out of the bullpen, I started working on throwing that breaking ball in 3-2 counts in the strike zone or 0-2 counts just out of the zone. That changed everything for me. Adjusting your preparations to what your opponents are doing is important.

But colder weather can certainly impact both the quality of play and performance. The World Series last year was a great example. It took three days for them to get Game 5 between the Rays and Phillies in -- and it really bothers me that we're letting the World Series champion get decided in weather like that. It was 35 degrees, with a wind chill lower than that and freezing rain. That's just not baseball weather.

The game can get out of balance when it's really cold, too, whether it's at the start of the season or the end. The pitchers have a decided advantage in cold weather. When it's cold and that wind is blowing in, if you don't walk people and you don't make errors, you are going to have a well-pitched game. Plus, in that kind of weather, the ball doesn't go anywhere off the bat.

The goal for the pitchers in cold temperatures is to either jam a hitter or get them to hit it off the end of the bat, because once they do that they are done for the rest of the day. They don't even want to swing the bat after that because they feel like they have taken a full swing at a full-speed freight train.

Maybe we go back to starting games at the end of March. The players and owners don't want to take less money, so the only other option may be more day-night doubleheaders, in which teams get two sets of paying fans. Of course, that's easy for me to say as a pitcher -- I wouldn't have to take the field for 18 innings in one day.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: April 20 | April 19 | April 16 | April 15 | April 14

TOUCH 'EM ALL

Touch 'Em AllWho went deep? Keep track of all the home runs hit each day on "Baseball Tonight" and on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page.

For more, check out the Home Run Tracker page.

Home Run Tracker
NAME HR OPPPITCHER SITUATION
R. Braun, Mil2PhiMoyerTop 1: 1-1, 2 Outs. None on.
N. Cruz, Tex6TorHalladayTop 2: 0-1, 0 Outs. 1 on.
F. Sanchez, Pit2FlaSanchezBot 3: 0-1, 0 Outs. None on.
P. Feliz, Phi1MilParraBot 3: 1-1, 2 Outs. None on.
G. Sizemore, Cle5KCPonsonBot 4: 1-0, 1 Outs. 2 on.

The complete list of Tuesday's homers

ON DECK: WEDNESDAY'S BEST MATCHUPS

Marlins at Pirates

When this series started, the Marlins had lost a grand total of one game all year. In two games against Pittsburgh, Florida has two losses. And the Marlins haven't even faced the Pirates' best pitcher so far this season: Paul Maholm. In three starts, spanning 20 2/3 innings, Maholm has allowed two earned runs. His ERA is 0.87 and his WHIP is 0.97.

Twins at Red Sox

Bad weather Tuesday night will have the Twins and Red Sox back at Fenway Park for a split doubleheader on Wednesday. The early game will feature Boston's Tim Wakefield, who flirted with a no-hitter in his previous start. In the nightcap, the Twins' Francisco Liriano will try to break free of his April issues. After two awful starts to open the year, Liriano showed signs his last time out, allowing one earned run over six innings. The problem with that game was the Twins imploded after he exited and lost 9-2 against Toronto.

Rockies at Diamondbacks

Really, is there anybody who has had worse luck so far this year than Dan Haren? The Diamondbacks' righty has a 1.89 ERA over his first three starts. He has a WHIP of 0.79, has struck out 17 against three walks and is limiting opponents to a .182 batting average. What does he have to show for all that? Well, an 0-3 record.

For the rest of Tuesday's schedule, click here.

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BBTN ON THE AIR: WEDNESDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
10 p.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Karl Ravech
Analyst: Steve Phillips, John Kruk, Fernando Vina
12 a.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Karl Ravech
Analyst: Steve Phillips, John Kruk, Fernando Vina

BBTN MINUTE: SLOW STARTS

SIMON SAYS

Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep, looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

Tonight, he looks at the Mets' inability to hold onto big leads so far this year. The bullpen issues from a year ago seem to be back for another round this season:

Mets blown 3+ run leads in 2009
Tuesday Led Cardinals 4-0 Lost 6-4
April 16 Led Padres 3-0 Lost 6-5
April 9 Led Reds 3-0 Lost 8-6

WEB GEMS

WEDNESDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
Ryan Braun• The Brewers had a bad day in an 11-4 loss against the Phillies. Check that, Ryan Braun did just fine. Braun endured the bad weather and delays and went 5-for-5 with a pair of home runs and drove in all of Milwaukee's runs in the loss.
Dontrelle WillisDontrelle Willis took a positive step in his road back from an anxiety disorder that forced him onto the disabled list three weeks ago. Willis pitched seven innings in a minor league rehab start, and though he suffered the loss, he seemingly found his missing command -- he threw 58 of his 75 pitches for strikes.
WORST
Jose ContrerasJose Contreras can't quite figure it out at the start of the season. He issued six walks and gave up six runs over 5 1/3 innings in a loss against Baltimore. In three starts this season -- all of which were losses -- Contreras has given up at least four runs but has yet to go deeper than 5 1/3 innings.
Brandon PhillipsBrandon Phillips posted another 0-for-4 day in the Reds' 7-2 loss against the Cubs. It's been a running theme for Phillips, who is hitting .143 this season. Phillips does not have a hit since April 14; in six games, he is 0-for-24.

NUMBERS TO KNOW

The Pirates' Paul Maholm is off to a hot start. He will try to continue Pittsburgh's success this week against the Marlins; the Pirates have taken the first two games against Florida, which entered the series 11-1.

Entering Tuesday's games, Maholm's 0.87 ERA was third among all pitchers with at least three starts. Although his strikeout numbers are meager (six in 20.2 innings), the left-hander has allowed just two earned runs on 14 hits. He's been excellent against lefties (1-for-19), though the Marlins aren't a hefty lefty lineup. Maholm's best pitches have been his curveball and slider, which have been unhittable.

Hitters vs. Maholm by pitch (2009)
H-AB BA
vs. curveball 0-6 .000
vs. slider 0-12 .000
vs. fastball/changeup 14-53 .264

-- ESPN Stats & Information

FANTASY: PREVIEW OF WEDNESDAY'S GAMES

Tristan H. Cockcroft examines the 16 games on Wednesday's slate.

Fantasy Cockcroft ranks the pitchers scheduled to take the mound and supplies loads of other information that could help shape your roster for Wednesday. Daily Notes