Two-way star Shohei Ohtani is getting back on a mound in a major league game this year for the first time since late 2018, a major boost for an Angels pitching staff starved for healthy innings from its starters. But one of the developments generating buzz around Ohtani at spring training has nothing to do with his pitching progress.
Japanese reporters this week noticed Ohtani behind the wheel of a car. Images landed in sports newspapers and television segments across the country.
When asked in English about his newfound independence Saturday, Ohtani, caught off guard, laughed.
“I’ve enjoying driving,” he said through his interpreter.
Ohtani, 25, received his license in California in November, his first time getting a license anywhere. He grew up in a rural area in Japan, but driving had never crossed his radar. Interpreter Ippei Mizuhara said Ohtani never had enough free time to learn.
Ohtani finally had time this offseason. A late-season knee surgery that repaired bipartite patella, a rare condition that occurs when the bones in the kneecap do not fuse after birth, forced him to step away from baseball activities for several weeks. Rather than do nothing, he studied and practiced for the driving exam with Mizuhara.
Ohtani passed the test in one attempt but he did not ask what score he earned. That raised the question: Is he a good driver?
“Pretty good,” he said.
Mizuhara, who has been at Ohtani’s side since before he signed with the Angels in December 2017, offered a different perspective.
“Eh,” he said.
Joe Maddon expects to see reliever Ty Buttrey make significant strides in his second full year as a member of a major league bullpen, but it might be a few weeks before the Angels’ new manager gets that glimpse. Buttrey strained an intercostal muscle in his left side playing catch this week. He will be sidelined for one to two weeks.
The injury, which Buttrey reported one day later after he threw in his bullpen session, is believed to be minor. An MRI revealed “nothing awful,” Maddon said.
“Last thing I need to do is, [on] Feb. 14, try to play through that and make it worse, then I’m looking at a longer recovery,” Buttrey said.
“Sometimes little things like that happen, but I’m not worried about it in the slightest.”
Buttrey was one of the Angels’ best relievers last season. He was so reliable that the Angels turned to him to get them out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam at Dodger Stadium in late July. He wiggled out of it without allowing a run and threw another inning to register his 18th hold of the season.
Overuse eventually took a toll. That Dodgers game was Buttery’s 46th appearance. He allowed 11 earned runs and a .333 batting average in the nine games that followed.
Buttrey completed the season with a 3.98 ERA after allowing no runs and two hits over his final five appearances of the year.
“This kid is gonna be good,” Maddon said. “Not just good — really good.”
Left-hander Luiz Gohara, whom the Angels signed to a minor league deal late last season, reported to camp but likely won’t be ready to help the team any time soon. Gohara underwent arthroscopic shoulder surgery last summer to alleviate soreness, leading to a second straight injury-shortened season. When healthy, Gohara can pair a high-90s fastball with an effective slider.