CINCINNATI -- If the Angels hope to avoid another rough start to the season, they'll have to beat some quality teams.
The 2013 season began in Cincinnati, will then head to Texas and return to Southern California for a series against the A's, making the Angels the first team since 2007 to start a year facing three straight teams that made the playoffs the previous season.
Seven of the Angels' first 10 series, making up 22 of their first 32 games, will come against teams that made the playoffs in 2012 (three against the Reds, six against the Rangers, six against the A's, three against the Tigers and four against the Orioles).
"The schedule's the schedule," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "The game at hand is important. You're going to face a tough game every night, and it just so happens that we're facing some teams that were playoff teams last year. In my mind, it's neither here nor there. You have the challenge of that game."
Madson back in familiar, yet unfamiliar, territory
CINCINNATI -- By the time the Angels' Opening Series concludes here on Thursday, Ryan Madson will have spent about as much time at Great American Ball Park as he did while under contract with the Reds all of last season.
Madson never threw a pitch for Cincinnati, which signed him to what agent Scott Boras likes to call a "pillow contract." His right elbow ligament tore off the bone near the end of a Spring Training in which he didn't appear in any Cactus League games, and three weeks later, Madson underwent the Tommy John procedure he's still struggling to come all the way back from.
"I wasn't really with them, but they're a really good organization," Madson said. "They were good to me, especially with what happened. But my time was cut short."
Madson had his surgery in Los Angeles by Angels team orthopedist Dr. Lewis Yocum. He checked in with the Reds shortly thereafter, then spent the entire summer rehabbing near his Temecula, Calif., home, seeing his teammates only when they made a trip to San Diego in early July.
The ensuing winter, the Reds declined Madson's $11 million option -- instead signing Jonathan Broxton to a three-year, $21 million contract and freeing Madson up to sign an incentive-laden deal with the Angels -- and that was it.
"I was just worried about getting my arm back and letting [free agency] take care of itself," Madson said. "I ended up where I ended up, and I'm very happy with where I'm at now."
In eight days, Madson will be exactly 12 months removed from Tommy John surgery. But his return to game action is still murky, hinging on how his elbow feels on any given day. On Wednesday, Madson threw 15 pitches off the mound, which represented a step back from where he was seven days ago -- throwing 40 pitches, mixing in changeups and going full intensity on his last few throws.
Madson was recovering from some tightness he felt in that session. But pitching coach Mike Butcher said he's "way further along" than where he was on March 11, his first day back on the mound after a Feb. 1 setback, calling the 15-pitch session "more precautionary than anything."
The final stage of his lengthy rehab has proven to be the most difficult for Madson, as is usually the case.
"Sometimes it's a trust factor, sometimes it's just that little hurdle of discomfort that you want to get over," Butcher said. "It's like a scab. You keep picking at it and it just doesn't heal, and then it kind of just goes away."
Romine, Shuck focus on being ready when called upon
CINCINNATI -- Andrew Romine and J.B. Shuck cleared a very large hurdle by making their first Opening Day roster. Now comes perhaps an even greater challenge: Adjusting to life as part-time players in the big leagues.
Romine and Shuck are the Angels' two left-handed bats off the bench, since the switch-hitting Hank Conger doubles as the backup catcher. And with Josh Hamilton the only left-handed hitter in the Angels' starting lineup, along with switch-hitters Erick Aybar and Alberto Callaspo, they could both be called on to pinch-hit in big spots throughout the season.
Young players will tell you that can be tougher than playing every day in the Majors, simply because it's something you can only get good at from experience.
"It's tough," Shuck said. "You just have to focus and stay in the game when you're not playing. Make sure you stretch out quite a bit, come in here, get some flips, and just pay attention to the game so you know kind of what the pitcher is doing in the game."
Shuck (37 games coming into the season) and Romine (27) each have limited Major League experience and, like most, played every day in the Minors. Each of them navigated through spring simulating regular-season pinch-hit appearances as best they could, and each of them have picked a veteran's brain in the past -- Shuck had Jason Michaels with the Astros in 2011, and Romine had Maicer Izturis up until last season.
"He always stressed being ready, at any time," Romine said of Izturis, "because especially in this organization, anything can happen. I can pinch-hit late, or I can just come in and run in an important situation. Anything can happen."
• The Angels Express Train, which takes fans to and from Angels games, returns this season, starting with Tuesday's home opener against the A's. Service to Anaheim will be available from Los Angeles Union Station and the Laguna Niguel/Mission Viejo station for weeknight home games starting at 7:05 p.m. PT. Service from Riverside is also available for Friday games via a transfer at the Orange Depot. Round-trip fare is $7 for the general public, $6 for seniors and $4 for those ages 6-18.
• Scioscia believes there could come a day when the National League and American League play by the same rules, but it isn't really necessary right now.
"I think that if Interleague Play continues to mount where they adjust the schedule and you're playing even more Interleague games, that probably would be a topic of discussion to try to get teams balanced as far as what the set of guidelines are," Scioscia said. "Right now, we're playing 10 with National League rules, and the National League teams are playing the 10 with DH. I think you can absorb that, because your teams aren't affected as much as they would be if the Interleague schedule got more robust. I think it's doable right now, but at some point it'll probably be talked about to get baseball into both sets of guidelines."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.