If the Angels stick to their plan with Shohei Ohtani, he’ll be making his big-league pitching debut without much big-league exposure.
His final Arizona start is scheduled for late Saturday morning in a scrimmage against mostly Angels minor leaguers.
That means the rookie would be starting during the season-opening series in Oakland having secured only eight outs in two Cactus League games.
Ohtani’s other starts this spring have come in a “B” game against the Milwaukee Brewers and an exhibition against the Tijuana Toros of the Mexican League.
His two major league games came Feb. 24 and March 16. Ohtani pitched 1 1/3 innings in each, retiring eight of the 20 batters he faced.
He gave up one earned run and two hits against the Brewers and seven earned runs and seven hits against the Colorado Rockies. He struck out five, while walking two and hitting a batter.
The Angels have remained resolute in their public support of Ohtani and their belief that he will be ready once the regular season begins. Team officials have dismissed his spring training statistics and pointed to more nuanced factors in accessing his progress.
In making official Ohtani’s next pitching appearance Thursday, manager Mike Scioscia offered additional backing.
“I think he’s feeling more comfortable with some things,” Scioscia said. “I think we’re looking forward to Saturday’s outing. We feel he’s going to be where he needs to be.”
The Angels optioned starters Nick Tropeano and Parker Bridwell to triple-A Salt Lake on Thursday, formally paving the way for Ohtani to make the opening day roster.
“Overall, I’m looking forward to the regular season,” Ohtani said through an interpreter. “But I don’t know exactly what my role is going to be yet.”
He likely will start as the designated hitter Thursday in the first game against Oakland, with the A’s scheduled to pitch right-hander Kendall Graveman.
Based on his current pitching schedule, Ohtani would start the third game of the season, on March 31.
He went 2 for 8 Thursday with three strikeouts batting in two minor league games in Tempe.
“I can’t tell you exactly how far off it is from my ideal swing,” he said. “But it is getting closer. Some of the balls I thought I hit hard turned into ground outs. It’s still not fully there.”
In the Cactus League, Ohtani is 3 for 28 (.107 average), with nine strikeouts and three walks.
“I think every time he goes out there he sees the ball a little better,” Scioscia said. “It’s a step forward.”
Rotation comes into focus
By optioning Tropeano and Bridwell, the Angels appear satisfied that Andrew Heaney’s elbow inflammation won’t be a significant setback.
Heaney, who missed his most recent day to pitch, said he is feeling better. He later was seen playing catch, though there is no timetable for his return.
With their early schedule and given the throwing programs set up for the members of their rotation, the Angels could make it to nearly mid-April before needing an additional starter.
Tropeano, who limited the Texas Rangers to no runs and two hits in 5 1/3 innings Sunday, will pitch in the same scrimmage as Ohtani.
Garrett Richards, who figures to be the opening day starter, will make his final spring appearance Friday in a minor league game in Scottsdale.
“This time of year, you always feel great,” Richards said. “You feel ready to go. That’s where I’m at.”
J.C. Ramirez pitched six scoreless innings in a triple-A game against the San Francisco Giants on Thursday afternoon. He gave up two hits and struck out three.
“I’m using all my pitches now,” he said. “It’s not just fastballs. I know I have a pretty good fastball, but I have to use my breaking ball stuff. These hitters don’t care if you throw 100 [mph]. You gotta be smart.”
Ramirez, who appears to be in line to start the Angels’ home opener April 2 against Cleveland, threw 47 strikes in his 76 pitches.
Later, in the Angels’ Cactus League game against the Dodgers, prospect Jaime Barria started.
In three-plus innings, he gave up three hits, including solo home runs to Yasiel Puig and Kike Hernandez.
Barria, 21, was in big-league camp for much of spring training before being sent down.
Along with the two starting pitchers, the Angels also sent Kaleb Cowart, Nolan Fontana and Juan Graterol to Salt Lake.
Non-roster players Ian Krol, Osmer Morales, John Lamb, David Fletcher, Eric Young Jr. and Rymer Liriano all were informed that they won’t be making the team to start the season.
The moves seem to indicate Jefry Marte has secured a spot on the Angels’ bench, though Chris Carter remains in camp, as well.