It’s not just the results at the plate that should concern the Angels about Shohei Ohtani, the aspiring two-way player who went hitless in two at-bats in the team’s 7-0 exhibition loss to the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday and is batting .100 (two for 20) with seven strikeouts and three walks in nine games.
It’s the noticeable lack of quality in those at-bats from a long-and-lean 23-year-old who is blessed with considerable bat speed and power but is trying to make the difficult transition from the Japanese league, which many compare to triple-A caliber, to the major leagues.
The left-handed-hitting Ohtani has looked overmatched in some plate appearances. He appears to be guessing during others. Sometimes his feet are unsettled, which throws off his timing. He often pulls off inside pitches, leading to weak contact or no contact.
Wednesday was one of those all-of-the-above days for Ohtani, who did not look comfortable against Indians ace Corey Kluber, the two-time American League Cy Young Award winner with the nasty cut fastball and sharp curve, or right-handed reliever Carlos Torres.
Ohtani swung through two Kluber cutters before being hit on the front foot by a 2-and-2 curveball in the third inning. Kluber shattered Ohtani’s bat in the fifth, inducing a weak popup to second base. Facing Torres in the eighth, Ohtani couldn’t quiet his feet as he swung through an inside fastball for strike three.
“He’s up there battling, he’s trying to put a good swing on the ball,” said Eric Hinske, the team’s first-year batting coach. “I’m trying to get him to shorten up a little bit, shorten his leg kick a little, so he can get to stuff inside, and to start looking for stuff so he can clear his lower half and get to the pitch.”
Ohtani hit .322 with 22 home runs and 67 RBIs in 104 games for the Nippon-Ham Fighters in 2016, but he was limited by an ankle injury to 65 games in 2017, hitting .332 with eight homers and 31 RBIs.
Ohtani, who combines a fastball that has touched 100 mph with an assortment of breaking balls and off-speed pitches, is more advanced as a pitcher than a hitter. The right-hander, who will pitch against Colorado on Friday, is expected to have a greater impact on the mound.
But it is far too soon to consider scrapping the two-way experiment.
“His swing is good, his approach is good, it’s about timing, like it is with a lot of hitters, and he’ll find it,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “Mechanically, he’s fine. He has a good routine. He’s confident he’s gonna find it, just as we’re confident he’s gonna find it.”
Hinske believes Ohtani’s timing, confidence and execution will improve as he gets more comfortable in the box and sees more big league pitching.
“He just needs to keep playing, he needs to get regular at-bats and to keep doing his thing,” Hinske said. “He’s doing the best he can, working the right way. We’re all staying positive and trying to get on the right path. Hopefully he starts getting a lot of base hits.”
Under the lights
Scioscia said most of the Angels starters will play in Thursday’s afternoon game against the Rockies at Salt River Fields, leaving a team of reserves to play a 6 p.m. game against the Chicago White Sox at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
The reason is obvious: Scioscia does not want to put his starters at risk in a stadium with substandard lights.
The Angels have hosted only one night game in 12 years, a 5 p.m. start that resulted in a combined no-hitter by eight Angels pitchers against Seattle last spring. The Angels will host another night game Monday against the Mariners.
Stadium manager Jerry Hall said the lights were replaced six years ago and are at a “triple-A level or better,” referring to the minor leagues, not the battery size.