APRIL FOOLS IN BASEBALL.
When the calendar turned to May in 2006, the Tigers' Chris Shelton was tied for
the American League lead with 10 home runs—he would end his year with 16—while
the Rockies, Reds and Rangers led their divisions. (They would each finish with
losing records.) For players with something to prove, however, April can be
pivotal. Here are three to watch closely this month.
Mark Buehrle, LHP, White Sox
His velocity was down in the second half of 2006, resulting in a 6.44 ERA after
the All-Star break. Buehrle hired a personal trainer this winter and committed
to a new conditioning program, but his 6.95 ERA in spring training did not
reflect all that hard work. If Buehrle is going to get back to being the
pitcher who averaged 16 wins from 2001 through '05, it will be clear sooner
rather than later.
Alex Rios, OF, Blue Jays
He was two different hitters last season. In the first half he transformed
himself into a power hitter, launching 15 home runs by June 14 after hitting
all of 10 in 2005. Rios suffered a staph infection two weeks later, though, and
when he returned, he was unable to pull the ball; he hit just two more home
runs in his final 31 games. The real Rios should stand up in April.
Jason Jennings (left), RHP, Astros
Houston is gambling that his 3.56 ERA in 15 starts at Coors Field last season
was no fluke. But because 2006 was the Year of the Humidor in Colorado,
statistics there are almost impossible to interpret. How Jennings performs in
his first few starts at Minute Maid Park—itself no paradise for pitchers—should
reveal a great deal about whether he's the No. 2 starter that the Astros
thought they had traded for.