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Shohei Ohtani named opening-day starter, says he’s ‘not thinking about free agency’

Shohei Ohtani delivers a pitch.
Angels pitcher Shohei Ohtani is set to start opening day on March 30 against the Oakland Athletics.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
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In a move that surprised no one, the Angels named Shohei Ohtani their opening day pitcher once again.

“As long as baseball has been around, you look up bios on pitchers — a lot of the great ones — and how many opening day starts they’ve made,” manager Phil Nevin said after making the announcement. “It’s an honor to do that and [Shohei Ohtani] looked at it the same way. It was an honor to tell him.”

That first game, against the Oakland Athletics, is March 30, his first start of what could be his last season in an Angels uniform.

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The plan this season is for Ohtani to pitch on five or six days of rest depending on the schedule, in a rotation that could be rounded out by a swing No. 6 (a pitcher who makes starts and comes out of the bullpen) or a traditional sixth starter.

If Ohtani works on five days’ rest, he would be in line to start the last game of their first trip in Seattle on April 5. But Nevin said there’s also a scenario Ohtani could start the Angels home opener against the Toronto Blue Jays on April 7.

Nevin said he spoke with Ohtani about being the opening day starter Thursday morning, after Ohtani finished his morning news conference. During that news conference, Ohtani was asked about his baseball future, but reiterated that he’s focused only on the coming season and not on his contract.

“I’m really not thinking about free agency right now,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “I’ve never been a free agent so I don’t know what it feels like. Like I said, I’m focused on the season, I’m not trying to think too far ahead.”

Mike Trout said during a press conference that he’ll do whatever he can to keep Shohei Ohtani with the Angels, but understands Ohtani will do what’s best.

Feb. 15, 2023

Ohtani is the first Angels pitcher to start consecutive seasons since Jered Weaver’s run of six consecutive starts from 2010 to 2015.

Ohtani went 15-9 with a 2.33 earned-run average in 2022. He had 219 strikeouts and made five more starts and pitched 36 more innings than he did during a stellar 2021 season. At the plate, he had 160 hits, including 34 home runs, 30 doubles and six triples.

Matt Moore joins the bullpen

Mike Trout suggested Wednesday that the Angels were not done adding new players. On Thursday, they signed left-handed reliever Matt Moore to one-year, $7.55-million contract.

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Moore spent last season with the Rangers, the team that transitioned him into a full-time relief pitcher. He gave up just 16 earned runs, including three home runs, walked 38 batters and struck out 83 over 63 games (74 innings pitched).

Moore, who was at the Angels facility, said that his success last year was because of the different mindset that he developed toward a relief role.

“My prep going into last season was like, we want to get more out [of] each pitch closer to what I’m capable of doing more often,” he said.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and Chicago White Sox’s Mike Clevinger addressed Clevinger’s domestic violence allegations on Wednesday in Phoenix.

Feb. 15, 2023

He noted that he does not have a problem with coming out of the bullpen for more than one inning, but that he prefers pitching frequently in short outings.

“I did really enjoy getting out there and backing up a starter, it was probably what I needed for that time,” he said. “And then as the season went on getting into a little bit tighter spots was maybe a little easier for me to transition to because of how the first couple of months went.”

General manager Perry Minasian noted Moore’s improved curveball helped him. Moore said that pitch, as well as a tweak to his fastball, were simple fixes made by slight changes in his pitching grips and helped him gain confidence.

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The Angels put right-handed pitcher Davis Daniel on the 60-day injured list for a right shoulder strain as the corresponding move.

Arbitration

Luis Rengifo won his arbitration case against the Angels, Minasian confirmed. Rengifo will earn $2.3 million — the Angels offered $2 million. The Angels were waiting for the results for Hunter Renfroe’s and Gio Urshela’s hearings.

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