Stellar pitching highlights 1Q of MLB season

From Dallas Braden's perfect game to Hanley Ramirez's loafing, it's been an eventful first quarter of the baseball season.

In the chilly months of April and May, it often takes the hitters a little longer to get warmed up than the pitchers. That trend appears to be continuing this year, with the first quarter of the season being highlighted by the guys on the mound.

There have already been two no-hitters and a handful of one-hitters in the first 40 games of the regular season. As of Thursday morning, eight pitchers, including three in the heavy-hitting American League, had earned-run averages under 2.00. Fifteen pitchers have ERA's better than 2.50 and a whopping 30 starters are under 3.00.

Here's a look at some of the stars, slumps and surprises through the first quarter of the year.

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STARS:

Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP, Colorado Rockies: Jimenez is making pitching cool for the first time at Coors Field. Threw the first no-hitter in franchise history at Atlanta on April 17 and topped the majors with seven victories and a 1.12 ERA.

—Andre Ethier, RF, Los Angeles Dodgers: Leading the majors with .392 batting average and 38 RBIs. His 11 HRs are second-best in NL. Also has two walkoff hits this season, including a grand slam to beat Milwaukee on May 6. Went on DL with broken finger on Tuesday.

—Braden, RHP, Oakland Athletics: Season numbers of 4-4 with a 3.45 ERA are pedestrian, but one of those wins was anything but. Threw 19th perfect game in MLB history on May 9 against the best team in baseball — the Tampa Bay Rays.

—Justin Morneau, 1B, Minnesota Twins: Hitting behind Joe Mauer, Minnesota's $184 million man, Morneau is making his $80 million contract look like a bargain. Leads AL with a .365 batting average and is third with 11 HRs.

—Honorable mention: Several players are enjoying resurgent starts, including Chicago White Sox slugger Paul Konerko (leads majors with 14 HRs), Giants LHP Barry Zito (6-1, 2.15 ERA) and Toronto CF Vernon Wells (.309, 11 HRs, 32 RBIs).

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SLUMPS:

—Trevor Hoffman, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers: One of best closers ever, the 42-year-old Hoffman has blown five of 10 save chances this year, prompting manager Ken Macha to bench him for two games. He is 1-3 with a 13.15 ERA with 7 HRs allowed.

—Aramis Ramirez, 3B, Chicago Cubs. Hitting .167 with 4 HRs and 20 RBIs for the struggling Cubs, who hope his walk-off homer in the 11th inning to beat Colorado on Monday night was a sign of things to come.

—Ken Griffey, Jr., DH, Seattle Mariners: Another aging star who appears on his way out. Seattle icon is hitting .183 with 0 HRs and 6 RBIs in 30 games. Team closed ranks after report that Griffey was sleeping in the clubhouse during a game.

—Josh Beckett, RHP, Boston Red Sox: Was 1-1 with a 7.29 ERA with 29 earned runs allowed in his previous 27 innings before being put on DL with back problems. Signed a four-year, $68 million extension in April.

—Managers on hot seat: Kansas City's Trey Hillman was first manager to be fired this season, and other jobs are in jeopardy, including Macha, Baltimore's Dave Trembley and New York Mets' Jerry Manuel.

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NICE SURPRISES:

—The Tampa Bay Rays, Cincinnati Reds and San Diego Padres are all on top of their respective divisions. Rays (29-11) are off to best start for a big league team since Boston in 2002. Tampa is 16-4 on the road this year.

The Reds are using pitching and small ball in a quest for first winning season in 10 years. They were in first place in the NL Central this late in the season for the first time since 2006.

"We've been trying to put this thing together for a couple years now," manager Dusty Baker said. "Everybody wants it built already, but it takes time to build things."

The Padres have used strong pitching from Jon Garland, Clayton Richard and Heath Bell while waiting for Adrian Gonzalez and the offense to heat up.

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BAD SURPRISES:

—The Los Angeles Angels, Milwaukee Brewers and Seattle Mariners.

The Angels have won five of the last six AL West titles, but John Lackey, Chone Figgins and Vlad Guerrero left big holes to fill and the Angels (19-24) were in third place in the West.

Starting pitching again is a big problem for the Brewers (15-25), and Hoffman's struggles contributed to the early struggles.

The Mariners remade their roster and were a trendy pick to unseat the Angels in the AL West this year. But Cliff Lee started the season on the DL and the last-place Mariners (14-26) were the worst in the AL in runs and HRs and second-to-last in batting average.

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MEMORABLE MOMENTS:

—Braden vs. A-Rod: Yankees star Alex Rodriguez infuriated Braden when he trotted across the mound in a game in April. The Oakland pitcher yelled at Rodriguez, who later chided Braden for his short resume. Braden's perfect game came a few weeks later.

—Phillies fan stunned by authorities: A 17-year-old fan got more than he bargained for when he ran onto the field during a game earlier in May. A Philadelphia policeman used a Taser on Steve Consalvi in a use of force that drew a lot of attention.

—Hoodiegate: MLB originally told Rays manager Joe Maddon he could not wear his preferred hoodie on the bench. Days later, the league reversed its decision, earning Maddon a note and gift from the "Head Hoodie" himself: Bill Belichick.

—Hanley's hustle: Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez benched star Hanley Ramirez after he showed little effort in chasing down a ball that got away from him. Ramirez at first criticized Gonzalez, then apologized to the team.

—Angel Pagan's historic night. The Mets CF became the first player in 55 years to hit an inside-the-park HR and take part in a triple play when he did it against the Nationals on Wednesday night. The Mets lost 5-3.

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AP Baseball Writers Joe Kay in Cincinnati, Janie McCauley in San Francisco and Fred Goodall in Tampa, Fla., contributed to this report.