KANSAS CITY -- "April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain." - T.S. Eliot April has indeed been a very harsh month for the Royals. Since 1989, the Royals have had only one winning April. Entering this season, they were 345-412 in April, by far their worst month of the season. In the past three Aprils, the Royals went 5-17 in 2006, 6-18 in 2005 and 7-14 in 2005. All three seasons ended in 100 or more losses. They also went 8-16 in 2002, which led to another 100-loss season. On the flip side, the Royals went 16-7 in April 2003, matching the club record for April victories and jump-starting an 83-win season, Kansas City's only winning season since 1994.
With that in mind, manager Buddy Bell is preaching a good start this year. "We all want to get off to a good start," Bell said. "I think it is important because the way we played the last two or three months. We had such a horrible first two months of the season [in 2006]. I think it is important for them to continue to have a little bit of momentum from last year. I'm not saying if that doesn't happen we throw the season away. That's not the way we do things here. "I'm not afraid to address it. I'm not afraid to say, 'Listen, we need to get off to a good start.' People think that puts too much pressure on. There's pressure on every day. I'd like to see us get off to a good start." The early schedule, however, is tougher than leather. In the first six games, the Royals face the Red Sox and defending American League champion Tigers. The opposing starting pitchers, in order: Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Justin Verlander, Mike Maroth and Jeremy Bonderman. In the first 44 games, the Royals play only seven games -- four at Baltimore, April 12-15, and three at Seattle, April 27-29 -- against clubs that had losing records in 2006. "Last year was tough," said right-hander Luke Hudson. "That first month of April, nobody was having fun. We were losing a bunch of games by a lot of runs. We were losing games that we were ahead. The bullpen and starting pitching were just all scuffling. "The important thing is we finished off the year really well. It was a character test and everybody finished strong. Hopefully, we'll carry that into this year. On paper, we've got a better team. The management has done their job. They've improved our team on paper. Now it is up to us to prove that." The Royals had an 11-game losing streak last April and a 13-game skid in May, but played .500 the final five weeks of the season. "We're building on a strong finish to last year and we've made some good additions coming into this year," first baseman Ryan Shealy said. "I wouldn't say playing .500 or better in April is a key. I don't think there is a certain winning percentage. I think it is more of an attitude that night in and night out we're going to battle. Buddy has been preaching to us about battling every night. The wins and losses will take care of themselves from that standpoint. "I think we obviously need to get off to as good a start as we can. We do open up with some tough teams." Different lineup: The Royals' four most experienced hitters -- Mike Sweeney, Mark Grudzielanek, Reggie Sanders and Jason LaRue -- were not in the lineup against Matsuzaka. Bell said he planned on giving Grudzielanek, who had arthroscopic knee surgery in March, the day off after a night game Tuesday. "That was no matter who pitched," Bell said. Bell said he wants to give Sweeney days off so to keep him healthy and to keep Ross Gload's left-handed bat in the lineup. Gload had two of the Royals' hits on Wednesday. Emil Brown replaced Sweeney as the designated hitter, while Esteban German started at second in place of Grudzielanek. Bell said Sanders would probably play on Saturday against Maroth. No risk: David Riske will serve as the Royals' closer while Octavio Dotel heals from a strained left oblique. Riske said he "closed every year" when he was in the Minors and was the Indians' closer the final two months of the 2003 season when Bob Wickman was injured. "In '04, I was given the opportunity to start out as the closer," Riske said. "My first month was probably the worst month of my career. I've had most of my success as a setup man." When Wickman became healthy, Riske returned to being a setup man. "I'm just holding down the fort, just waiting until [Dotel] gets healthy," Riske said. "He's the closer. It doesn't' matter where I pitch. But it is very fun closing. I love it -- the adrenaline. The last three outs in a save situation are so different than anything else, I think. Some people say it's just another inning, but it isn't. The last three outs of a ballgame are always the toughest for some reason. I don't know why, but it is different. I'm up for it." On deck: The Royals open a three-game series against the Tigers on Friday night at 7:10 CT. Jorge De La Rosa gets the nod for Kansas City, while Detroit counters with Verlander.
Alan Eskew is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.