The Oakland Athletics hope Opening Day in America goes better than their international version did last week when they begin a four-game series against the visiting Los Angeles Angels on Thursday afternoon.
The same two teams opened the 2018 season in Oakland, with the Angels bouncing back from a 6-5, walk-off loss on Opening Day to take 2-1, 8-3 and 7-4 victories to win the series. The buzz in Oakland that week was Japanese import Shohei Ohtani, who made his big-league debut both as a hitter and a pitcher.
There's a Japanese angle to Thursday's game as well, but it involves the A's. They opened the 2019 season in Japan, losing two straight to the Seattle Mariners, 9-7 and 5-4.
In the process, they also lost first baseman Matt Olson to a hamate injury. He's since had surgery and could be out through the month of April.
Right-hander Mike Fiers (0-1, 15.00) took the loss in last Wednesday's opener, roughed up for five runs in three innings.
He will be opposed Thursday by Angels right-hander Trevor Cahill, who pitched last season for Oakland.
Acquired from Detroit last August for two players to be named later, Fiers helped pitch the A's into the playoffs, going 5-2 in 10 games, including nine starts. He faced the Angels twice last season, getting a no-decision in a 6-1 Tigers win in May, before drawing the loss in an 8-5 defeat in Anaheim in September.
The 33-year-old has faced the Angels 10 times in his career, nine times as a starter, going 3-4 with a 5.82 ERA.
The biggest thorn in his side, not surprisingly, has been Angels star Mike Trout, who has bombed Fiers for a .429 batting average and 1.469 OPS in 23 career plate appearances. Trout has gone 8-for-19 with two home runs, four doubles and seven RBI.
Trout has been in the news this offseason, agreeing to a record contract extension with the Angels.
Veteran slugger Albert Pujols was among those applauding the Trout news.
"He's a special kid, man," Pujols noted to reporters during training camp. "He's a very special kid. And if he stays healthy, I'm telling you, the last couple of years is just the start of a great career."
Someone else who got a contract from the Angels in the offseason was catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who left the A's as a free agent for a $3.35 million, one-year offer from Los Angeles.
Lucroy caught nine of Fiers' 10 games with the A's last season.
Ohtani won't be with the Angels to start the season as he rehabs from Tommy John elbow surgery. He is not expected to pitch in 2019, but could join the Angels' lineup as a hitter as early as May.
Cahill enjoyed a bounce-back season after signing with the A's last spring. He went 7-4 with a 3.76 ERA, his most wins since going 8-10 for Arizona in 2013.
He had pitched previously for Arizona, Atlanta, the Chicago Cubs, San Diego and Kansas City, as well as an earlier stint with Oakland.
One ex-teammate Cahill won't have to deal with is Olson, who, according to A's manager Bob Melvin, will be missed for more than just his 29-homer bat.
"There are certain guys who you feel like are a little more replaceable than others. He's a tough one," Melvin assured reporters. "He makes everybody in the infield better. All you've got to do is get it over in his direction. He's got a wide wingspan and he picks everything out of the dirt.
"It's tough not having him out there."
--Field Level Media
A's welcome Angels, aim to move past rocky Japan trip