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Angels confirm key part of their plan to build around Shohei Ohtani

Angels confirm key part of their plan to build around Shohei Ohtani
In an effort to keep Shohei Ohtani on the once-a-week pitching regimen he used in Japan, the Angels will open the season with six starting pitchers. (Ben Margot / AP)

Tyler Skaggs reported for spring training on Tuesday having "no clue whatsoever" about whether the Angels would employ a six-man rotation to accommodate Shohei Ohtani, the 23-year-old Japanese star who aspires to be baseball's best two-way player since Babe Ruth.

The left-hander was not in the dark for long.

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A few hours later in Tempe Diablo Stadium, before a gathering of about 70 reporters and photographers — most from Japanese media outlets — manager Mike Scioscia confirmed what has been suspected for months: The Angels, in an effort to keep Ohtani on the once-a-week pitching regimen he used in Japan, will open the season with six starting pitchers.

"We're gonna be flexible, but right now that's how we're gonna map things out," Scioscia said. "With a six-man, it will take a little bit of the burden off guys to have to bounce back. It will not only pay dividends for Shohei but for the rest of our staff to hopefully keep them effective and strong through the whole season."

Pitchers will have to adjust their between-starts routine. Do they use the extra day to rest, work out or add a light bullpen session? They'll have all spring to iron out the details. The most important thing is they all appear to be on board with the idea, which is not surprising.

Five starters — Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney, Matt Shoemaker, Skaggs and Nick Tropeano — missed significant chunks of the last two seasons because of injuries, and J.C. Ramirez underwent stem-cell therapy last September to repair a damaged elbow ligament.

"If it's a way for everybody to stay healthy and we can win ballgames, then I'm all for it," said Richards, who was limited by elbow and biceps injuries to six starts each of the last two seasons. "Theoretically, you would think an extra day of rest would be a beneficial thing."

The reduced workload and extra time between starts won't necessarily push Scioscia to extend their pitch counts.

"When a pitcher is done in a game, he's finished, and you do not want to put a pitcher at risk at any time," Scioscia said. "We'll look at it very closely. We have some ranges where we know when their stuff starts to deteriorate, maybe they come out of their mechanics and they're starting to stress their arm.

"But for our whole pitching staff to work, our starters are going to have to carry that torch 18, 19, 20 outs into a game. That's gonna be really important to keep our bullpen where we need it."

Last season the Angels' starting pitching ranked sixth in the American League in ERA, seventh in opponents' batting average, 10th in innings pitched and 14th in wins, with only one complete game.

Pitchers and catchers begin formal workouts Wednesday, but several Angels including Ohtani ave been working out at the complex for at least a week, giving Ohtani a chance to acclimate to his new team and the Angels a chance to get to know their new teammate.

"He's phenomenal," Shoemaker said. "You see him throw a bullpen and how hard he throws, and then to see him effortlessly swing and see the ball jump off his bat is kind of crazy. It's exciting."

The Angels also got their first taste of Ohtani-mania on Tuesday. Media members began congregating by the entrance to the players parking lot at 7 a.m., a full five hours before Ohtani got to the stadium after undergoing a physical.

The media throng grew to about 70 by the time Ohtani took some swings in the batting cage and played long toss in the early afternoon. Most years there are four or five writers on hand to speak to Scioscia on reporting day. The manager used a hand-held microphone and amplifier to address the media Tuesday.

"It's definitely different for camp," Skaggs said. "I've never see this many media people here, but at the same time, I think it brings a little more excitement, a little more buzz to the season and will make us play that much harder."

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Ohtani's spring-training workload will be a little longer than most pitchers', but after general manager Billy Eppler traveled to Japan in January to consult with Ohtani's former coaches and trainers, the Angels feel they have a good idea how much he can handle.

"You can't miss any steps," Scioscia said. "He'll have to do his fundamentals as a pitcher and throw quality bullpens to prepare for spring games. He'll have to run the bases and hit from the offensive end. There will be a little more detail he'll have to pay attention to … but it shouldn't be anything he hasn't done before."

The Angels hope the left-handed-hitting Ohtani will be able to start two or three games a week at designated hitter, but with his 100-mph fastball and vast assortment of breaking pitches, including a split-fingered fastball, Ohtani's greatest impact probably will be on the mound.

"He's probably going to influence our team more as a pitcher," Scioscia said, "but that's not to say he's not going to have a chance to make a difference on the offensive end, too."

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