There would have been at least one benefit to Shohei Ohtani playing minor league games while he was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
The Angels kept Ohtani in Anaheim when he was cleared last month to face pitchers for the first time since having the elbow ligament in his right arm replaced in the offseason. Since he is not a position player and is being limited to designated-hitting duties this season, team officials chose to simulate his spring training at Angel Stadium. The decision made it easier for him to get the 50 or so at-bats a hitter usually requires to prepare for the season.
But simulated games do not account for situations like the ones Ohtani faced Tuesday evening at Target Field. The 2018 American League rookie of the year ran into two outs on the basepaths in the Angels’ 4-3 loss to the Minnesota Twins.
The most costly mistake occurred with two outs in the eighth inning. Ohtani tried to score from second base on Brian Goodwin’s single to center field but was thrown out by the Twins’ Byron Buxton, who played the baseball on a hop and fired it 253 feet on a perfect line to catcher Mitch Garver.
“It was a bang-bang play and I felt like maybe if I had a better secondary lead or if I had another step, I could have been safe,” said Ohtani, who was three for four with an RBI. “I will try to work on that from now on.”
Ohtani also made the second out of the Angels’ three-run sixth-inning when he tried to reach third base on Andrelton Simmons’ single to right field. He paused briefly when he rounded second base, unsure how right fielder Max Kepler, who throws left-handed, had handled the ball. The hesitation cost the Angels a chance to attempt to tie the score.
“I was trying to be aggressive, trying to get to third base with less than two outs,” Ohtani said. “The shift was on, so the positioning was kind of messed up. So I thought I had a chance to make it to third, but once again the results weren’t there.”
Manager Brad Ausmus said he did not challenge the play at the plate because Garver, who was hurt when Ohtani slid feet-first and rammed into Garver’s ankle, was not illegally blocking the plate. Replays confirmed his suspicions.
“When you have the ball you’re allowed to block the plate,” Ausmus said. “You can’t question that. He was just out.”
The defeat could not be pinned solely on Ohtani. Ausmus called on Justin Bour, who has been mired in a seasonlong slump, to pinch-hit with one out and a runner on first base, believing the left-handed hitter could homer off former Angels right-handed reliever Blake Parker. Bour struck out for the 31st time this season. He was optioned to triple-A Salt Lake after the game.
Angels pitchers also had a hand. Felix Pena, who entered the game trailing 1-0 in the second inning, gave up a two-run homer to Garver in the third and a run-scoring double to Buxton in the fourth. Buxton’s RBI made the difference in the game.
But had Ohtani better calculated his jaunts around the bases, the Angels (20-22) might have had a chance to reach .500 for the first time since mid-April.
“We were able to fight back and came within six inches of tying it,” Ausmus said.