Scrutiny grows as Angels’ plan for Shohei Ohtani begins to falter in spring training
After only three pitching starts and 14 plate appearances, all under conditions that don’t count, the speculation is as rabid as the expectation that daily dogs Shohei Ohtani.
He should shorten his swing. He should abandon hitting altogether. He should be more pitch efficient. He should open the season in the minors.
Trying to do something rarely accomplished in the modern era of baseball, Ohtani to date has been given more grief publicly than time.
“Like any player here, Shohei wants to achieve,” manager Mike Scioscia said Saturday. “He knows the talent he has. … You gotta be patient at times in the spring.”
Ohtani and the Angels are discovering that the outside world isn’t terribly interested in giving breaks to phenoms, at least not international ones attempting to regularly pitch and bat in the big leagues.
Instead, Ohtani’s unsteady pitching results and one-for-11 start as a hitter have been reasons enough for many people, mostly media members and anonymous scouts, to ponder how long the Angels can stick to a blueprint from which they have promised not to waver.
With the season opener only 19 days away, the scrutiny promises to only intensify, especially if Ohtani’s performances continue to lag.
“We’re not telling Shohei not to do anything,” Scioscia said. “He has a plan on what to do, and he’s following that plan. We’ll make sure he passes every level until he moves on to the next one.”
What’s next for Ohtani is starting Sunday as designated hitter in a Cactus League game against Texas.
Ohtani should receive more at-bats as the week progresses before making his next pitching start. Scioscia said the right-hander won’t return to the mound until Friday, at the earliest. The Angels play Colorado at Tempe Diablo Stadium that afternoon.
Scioscia did confirm that Ohtani’s next pitching appearance will come in a Cactus League game after the Angels threw him in consecutive “B” games in an attempt to better control his pitch count.
Catcher Rene Rivera suggested Friday that Ohtani would benefit from going against big league hitters because the heightened competition should boost his adrenaline.
Scioscia said ideally Ohtani would work five innings, with the plan being to “definitely try” to get him in the range of 75 pitches.
“Shohei needs to focus on what he needs to do,” Scioscia said. “If he does what’s laid out, then he’s not doing too much.”
The latest round of debate and consternation mostly centered on Ohtani’s three-inning stint Friday against the Mexican League’s Tijuana Toros, roughly the equivalent of a triple-A team.
He struggled with his command at times and gave up six runs and six hits, including a long homer. He did strike out six.
“His K-zone percentage, everything that was in the zone, was probably an indicator that he would have had better results,” Scioscia said. “There’s some positives there. We’re going to have to keep building with him.”
The manager also dismissed the notion that the velocity of Ohtani’s fastball should be a concern. His top-end speed Friday was 95 mph, and he ranged in the mid- to low-90s.
In Japan, Ohtani threw over 100 mph, one of his fastballs clocked at 102.
“It’s been pretty good,” Scioscia said. “It’s been comparable to where some of our other pitchers are at this stage of the spring. It’s not going to be an issue.”
The Angels optioned Jaime Barria to triple-A Salt Lake, and reassigned catcher Taylor Wade and pitcher Vincente Campos to minor league camp.
Barria, 21, one of the organization’s top-10 prospects, appeared in three spring-training games, striking out six and walking one in 5 2/3 innings. He had a 4.76 ERA.
“He’s got great presence, really good command and can throw three or four pitches in any count,” Scioscia said. “He knows how to pitch.”
Shortstop Andrelton Simmons (shoulder) reported that he is feeling better and doesn’t expect his soreness to linger, the Angels confident he’ll be able to return soon. … The same goes for outfielder Chris Young (calf) and corner infielder Jefry Marte (groin) as both also continue to progress.
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