Interleague matchups in the first week include Josh Hamilton and the Angels facing the Reds, and the Phillies playing the Royals.


On a windy morning at spring training, a trio of 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."

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

Derek Jeter and the Yankees cross over to the National League each month, then host 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. A few days later, it's Phillies-Royals.

"It is very strange," Cincinnati 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.

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."

As the season approached, much was made of the number of big names settling into new settings. But as the season arrives, injuries and comebacks from injuries are garnering attention.

New Mets captain David Wright, Hanley Ramirez and Mark Teixeira got hurt at the World Baseball Classic. Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Chase Headley and David Freese are out for opening day, the futures of Alex Rodriguez and Johan Santana are in doubt.

Several top players are on the mend, though.

All-time saves leader Mariano Rivera begins his farewell tour after missing most of last year with a knee injury. John Lackey and Victor Martinez were absent for the entire season, and Jose Bautista, Troy Tulowitzki and Carl Crawford finished on the DL.

Stephen Strasburg wasn't active at the end, either. The Nationals shut down their ace so he wouldn't pitch too many innings, then fizzled in their first playoff appearance.

No limits on Strasburg or the Nats this time around.

"I'm excited. I think everybody in the baseball world, not just us, is really excited to see him all year," 20-year-old Washington star Bryce Harper said.