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Before the first game of the 2020 season has been played, Major League Baseball released its 2021 schedule.

The Cincinnati Reds are slated to entertain their National League Central Division rival St. Louis Cardinals on April 1, 2021, at Great American Ball Park.

They will have a day off on April 2 before continuing the three-game series on April 3-4.

All teams are scheduled to begin the season on April 1. If no games are postponed, it will mark the first time since 1968 a full slate of opening-day games were played on the same day.

The Reds will play American League Central opponents in interleague play in 2021, hosting the Cleveland Indians (April 16-18), Chicago White Sox (May 4-5) and Detroit Tigers (Sept. 3-5). They will travel to Cleveland (May 7-9), Minnesota (June 21-22), Kansas City (July 5-7) and Chicago White Sox (Sept. 28-29). All games in the Ohio Cup series against Cleveland will be on weekends.

The Reds will end the regular season Oct. 1-3 with a three-game series in Pittsburgh.

Unlike the 60-game 2020 slate, which features a relatively easy beginning, Cincinnati starts 2021 in rugged fashion. After opening with the Cardinals, the Pirates come to town for three games.

The Reds then head to the West Coast for a trio of game each with Arizona and San Francisco before returning to take on Cleveland and Arizona. April ends with visits to St. Louis and the Los Angeles Dodgers, and a home game with the Chicago Cubs.

REDS SET FOR OPENER: In a minor surprise, Cincinnati Reds manager David Bell named Sonny Gray his opening-day starter.

Gray is scheduled to take the mound July 24 vs. the Detroit Tigers in a 6:10 p.m. game at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. Bell selected Gray over Luis Castillo, widely considered the staff ace.

“To be an opening-day starter, especially in this circumstance, I try to put myself in that moment,” Gray said. “It’s going to be an important day. It’s going to be a fun game to play. Baseball will be back, and it will be back in some of the weirdest and craziest circumstances within the baseball game that’s it’s ever, really, been a part of. I think 2020 is going to be a season that is going to be remembered forever.”

Castillo, Trevor Bauer, Wade Miley and Anthony DeSclafani round out the rest of the rotation. Gray made two opening-day starts as a member of the Oakland Athletics.

“There is no denying that Sonny has stepped up,” Bell said. “He’s a leader. He sets a great example. He also had a great season last year. Given that it worked out that way, we couldn’t have asked for a better option to set the tone for the season for our rotation.”

Bell said more went into the decision than merely the prestige of starting the first game of the season in Cincinnati, where opening day is a city-wide celebration.

“There was a lot of strategy,” Bell said. “We believe in all of our guys so much. We could have come up with any order and felt great about it. Some of it had to do with their readiness. That was kind of the No. 1 factor. The second factor, to the best of our ability, was matching up our opposition the best we can. It’s a stretch of 17 games until the first off-day. It was doing the best we could of matching guys up.”

Gray, 30, was an All-Star last season, his first with the Reds since coming over in a trade with the New York Yankees. Gray went 11-8 with a 2.87 ERA and 205 strikeouts in 175 1/3 innings.

Castillo was the team’s opening-day starter in 2019, and also an All-Star, going 15-8 with a 3.40 ERA and 226 strikeouts in 32 starts and 190 2/3 innings. Those numbers would be opening-day worthy for nearly any team and Bell said he let Castillo know that Gray’s selection was not a slight.

“You can imagine that conversation was all about, ‘Hey, this has nothing to do with your performance or our faith or confidence in your ability.’ It was more the other two factors,” Bell said.

Gray said any of the Reds’ starters were worthy of hurling on opening day, and he’s honored to have been given the opportunity.

“Just to be starting this thing for us and this little journey that we’re going down, it’s something that I was hoping that would happen,” Gray said. “It was something that I was preparing myself to pitch in that game because if the opportunity came, I wanted to be ready. I want to be ready mentally. I want to be ready physically.”

Paul Adkins is the Sports Editor of the Logan Banner. Follow him on Twitter at @PAdkinsBanner or email him at padkins@hdmediallc.com