CLEVELAND — April can be cruel, especially to hitters.
It's one of Indians manager Terry Francona's bigger concerns every time a new season rolls around, which every year just so happens to take place prior to temperatures rising and, in some cases, the snow clearing.
The beginning of the regular season and the transition from spring training to games that matter can throw off timing enough. Add in a daily fight against the chill of Ohio or Minnesota or Illinois in late March and April, and finding your swing can be more difficult than trying to restart your car after it's been sitting under a sheet of ice and snow for a week.
This Indians lineup already had some question marks and less of a track record than in years past, plus the injuries to Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis have left it depleted. There's nothing to say the offensive issues during the team's first series in Minnesota — in which they scored five runs and struck out 39 times — have anything to do with the frigid weather. But, it doesn't make anything easier, either.
As much as anything, trying to hit in the cold weather is a bigger issue when looking at a larger sample size. Not all hitters feel any difference, particularly on a daily basis. There's also the fact that the Twins had little trouble scoring on Sunday in their 9-3 win. But on an individual level, it can exacerbate an already tough beginning by making it harder to carry over any positive momentum from day to day.
"When you get into summer and you have a good swing, you can keep it for a couple weeks," Francona said. "Here, you take a good swing and then your next at-bat is a whole another adventure. Your bat is cold, the handle is cold, your gloves are cold. It's a grind. But whoever grins through it better gives themselves a better chance to win."
For example, Tyler Naquin's first two games in Minnesota were about as rough as they could have been. He struck out six times and popped out in front of home plate in seven at-bats. It's only the first two games of the season and Francona cited a timing issue, but in relation to the weather, the cold at least won't help a turnaround from an ugly beginning.
Francona has mentioned how being strong mentally is important for a hitter trying to dig out of an early rut while having to stare at some poor numbers for at least a few weeks. Several hitters in the Indians lineup are on their way to being in that situation. It's one of the things many in the lineup might have to fight as the Indians rely on their starting rotation.
The fact that it's so early in the season is, likely, the bigger factor at play. Jose Ramirez, for example, has now gotten off to a slow start in first week of the season the past two years.
"Sometimes guys just start out slow," Francona said of Ramirez. "The weather’s not going to help anybody. We know that. Sometimes you’re not ready to be who you are yet. You know you’re going to look up at some point and he’s going to be leading the league in a lot of categories or second and third. First couple of games sometimes guys just aren’t ready to be themselves yet."
Ryan Lewis can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.