March 31, 2017

With the start of a new season, every big league player gets a clean slate. An unblemished stat sheet.

That goes for the star sluggers and light-hitting utility infielders. Veteran players and youngsters alike. Hitters and pitchers.

The numbers reset for all of them each year, whether coming off a career-best season or one they'd rather forget.

There will always be some early surprise breakout performances. And plenty of struggles.

Before too many pitches are thrown or homers hit in 2017, here is a sampling of a few key players who have gotten off to fast starts. And some others who were a little slower getting out of the gate.

Among the fast starters:

- Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston Astros. The diminutive Altuve has led the American League in hits three straight seasons, with 641 over that span. And he usually gets off to a good start, with a .325 career average in March/April games over his five full seasons. While not his best month average-wise - he's a .338 hitter in June - his 11 homers in that opening month are the most, including six in 2016.

- Aledmys Diaz, SS, St. Louis Cardinals. OK, so it's only one season, but Diaz started his rookie season in 2016 by hitting .423 with four homers and 13 RBIs in 22 games last April.

- Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals. Harper hit nine homers last April, matching his most for the opening month of a season, and had 24 RBIs. Going into his sixth MLB season and still only 24, Harper is a .304 hitter in the opening month of the season. He matches that with another .304 mark in June, his only other month over .300.

- Felix Hernandez, RHP, Seattle Mariners. Call him the King over hitters to start the season. Hernandez has a 28-14 record in 58 opening-month starts, during which his 2.39 ERA is by far the best of his career and the .214 batting average by opponents is the lowest.

- Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore Orioles. A .305 hitter in March/April games, though he has only played that early in three of his five major league seasons. Machado had the best opening month last season when he hit .344 with seven homers and 16 RBIs in 23 April games.

- Chris Sale, LHP, Boston Red Sox. Only once in his five full seasons in the White Sox rotation did Sale finish with a losing record. The player who changed the color of his sox in the offseason has really shredded opposing teams in the first months of the season. He is 30-7 with a 2.73 ERA in his games pitched from the start of the season through the end of May in his career.

- Jean Segura, SS, Seattle Mariners. Before getting traded over the winter, Segura hit .333 with four homers and 15 RBIs last April with Milwaukee. In his first full big league season with the Brewers in 2013, he hit .367 with three homers and nine RBIs that April.

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Some slow starters:

- Brian Dozier, 2B, Minnesota Twins. After hitting .191 in 23 games last April, Dozier's career average in the opening month of the season dropped to .216, easily the lowest for the 2015 All-Star.

- Andrew McCutchen, RF, Pittsburgh Pirates. While McCutchen is a five-time All-Star, those selections certainly aren't based on how he generally starts the season. The opening stretch is easily his worst, with a .255 average in March/April games - his next-worst is a .279 average in September/October games. McCutchen heats in May, with a career-best .314 average, followed by .308 in June.

- Albert Pujols, 1B/DH, Los Angeles Angels. The slugger, a .306 career hitter who is 37 and has been dealing with foot issues over the last few years, hit six homers last April. But the .176 average then was the only time in his 17 seasons to be under .200 in a month. Over the course of his career, he is a .290 hitter the first month - his lowest mark. He's up to .299 in May and at least .312 every other month.

- Kyle Seager, 3B, Seattle Mariners. While he had five homers in 22 games last April, Seager had 15 strikeouts and hit .159 for the month. He then had five more homers in May, when he hit .361.

- Justin Verlander, RHP, Detroit Tigers. A six-time All-Star with a career record of 173-106 and a 3.47 ERA over 12 big league seasons with the same team, the 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young winner usually needs a few weeks to warm up to his high standards. While certainly acceptable to some pitchers, Verlander's 19-20 record in March/April games marks his only losing record in any monthly stretch - and the 3.95 ERA is his worst.

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