Angels' Shohei Ohtani remains confident, even as others start to wonder about his ability

Expertise in body language isn't required to figure out there's concern in these parts about Shohei Ohtani.

The consternation can be detected everywhere from the evasive responses of Angels manager Mike Scioscia to the downcast reports from scouts who previously forecast stardom for the two-way player from Japan.


About the only person who doesn't look or sound bothered by how Ohtani's spring is unfolding is Ohtani himself.

Ohtani produced more dispiriting results Friday at Tempe Diablo Stadium, touching 98 mph in a scoreless first inning against the Colorado Rockies, only to be pounded for seven runs in the second. He registered one out in that second inning and was removed from the game with his pitch count at 50.

The performance had minimal effect on the demeanor of Ohtani, who maintained an air of casual confidence as he fielded questions about his readiness for opening day and the possibility of starting the season in the minor leagues.

Ohtani has a 16.20 earned-run average in four starts, including a couple of scrimmages on minor league fields. The right-hander has 19 strikeouts in 8 1/3 innings, but has given up four home runs. Ian Desmond and Nolan Arenado homered off him Friday in the Rockies' 18-6 victory over the Angels.

"I've been able to get hitters out with the pitches I've thrown properly," Ohtani said in Japanese. "I think it's more about me than my opponents."

He's made similar statements about his lack of success at the plate, where he is two for 20 as a left-handed hitter.

Ohtani hasn't looked frustrated. Nor has he come across as if he's concealing his frustration. He has remained guarded in his interactions with reporters, but has been incredibly polite, making eye contact with anyone who asks him a question, even if they are doing so through an interpreter.

The calm exterior could be a sign of tremendous promise or impending disaster. Either he is certain his purported physical genius will allow him to triumph or entirely clueless about the magnitude of the challenge he is undertaking.

That an unproductive exhibition season hasn't driven him to panic should be expected. He's intimately familiar with them.

In spring training before his breakout season as a pitcher in 2015 with the Nippon-Ham Fighters, he posted a 7.36 ERA. He became known as a legitimate offensive threat and won an MVP award the following year, when he batted well under .200 for the majority of the exhibition season.

"I've never entered a season without doubts and I'm thinking it will probably be like that to a certain degree this year as well," Ohtani said.

Of course, what makes this situation different is that he's now in the major leagues, not Nippon Professional Baseball's Pacific League.

Scioscia wouldn't say whether Ohtani's place on the opening-day roster is secure and pitching coach Charles Nagy wouldn't either. But Ohtani said he hasn't entertained the idea of starting the season in the minor leagues.

Ohtani's concerns are with the minute details of his craft — as pitcher, maintaining his arm speed in the first inning and throwing his forkball properly; as a hitter, learning to time his leg kick to the deliveries of major league pitchers, which are quicker than what he typically encountered in Japan.


With as much as the Angels have invested in Ohtani — they are prepared to use a six-man rotation this season — they have no choice but to believe in his talent.

"Shohei's talent is real," Scioscia said. "Obviously, we believe in it. We anticipate him being ready to both pitch and hit when the season starts."

Ohtani believes, too.

He was visibly relaxed on the morning of his most recent start, looking like a pitcher preparing for a practice instead of an audition.

Ohtani and his interpreter sat next to each other in the Angels locker room and played video games, with Ohtani occasionally looking over and smiling at his companion. At one point, catcher Martin Maldonado walked over to speak to Ohtani. They spoke through an interpreter but managed to make each other laugh.

Pitchers generally don't like to be bothered on days of their starts, but not Ohtani. When the Angels hit the field for their morning workout, Ohtani signed autographs for fans down the left-field line.

Opening day was still 13 days away. It was too early for him to be worried.

Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez