In first week with Angels, Shohei Ohtani is making an impression on his teammates
TEMPE, Ariz. — In case Shohei Ohtani’s work in the batting cage or on the mound has not shown his new teammates enough about how special he is, he also took to the golf course with a few of them recently.
“I don’t think he’s played a lot of golf,” Andrew Heaney said. “But he picked up on it really quickly. From the front nine to the back nine, he got a lot better. He has that hand-eye coordination and athleticism to do pretty much whatever he wants.”
That’s why just about every team in the majors coveted the 23-year-old Japanese star so much.
The Angels were lucky enough to be picked by Ohtani, and he’s now begun to show what he can do in an Angels uniform. Although Tuesday was the official start of spring training, with pitchers and catchers scheduled to report, Ohtani has been working out at the complex with a handful of teammates for days.
“Seeing him get acclimated has been great,” Matt Shoemaker said. “It’s awesome. He’s phenomenal. You see him throw a bullpen, how hard he can throw. And you see him effortlessly swing and see what the ball does off his bat. It’s kind of crazy. It’s exciting.”
About 70 media members — mostly from Japanese outlets — hovered around Ohtani throughout his couple hours at the ballpark on Tuesday. He took some swings in the batting cage and then played catch, with dozens of cameras snapping photos all along. He is scheduled to have his first press conference of the spring on Wednesday, with a conference room at an adjacent hotel being used to accommodate the media throng.
The transition from Japan to the major leagues is closely watched for all Japanese star players who come to the United States, but in Ohtani’s case, there are added layers of intrigue.
He is going to attempt something that’s unprecedented in modern baseball, pitching and hitting regularly. The other Angels starters are just as eager to see him try it as everyone else.
“I hope he can,” Shoemaker said. “He’s already done it for a few years over in Japan. It’s going to be interesting to see what he can do. It’s going to be awesome to see him be successful.”
Manager Mike Scioscia said Ohtani’s days in spring training will be “a little longer” than the other pitchers, but they’ve consulted with him and his former trainers and coaches in Japan to see what kind of routine he can handle.
Once the season begins, the Angels plan on having him hit on the days between his starts, although Scioscia wouldn’t get more specific on the number of games or at-bats for Ohtani.
He was clear that pitching will be Ohtani’s primary responsibility.
“He’s going to get the most looks as a pitcher,” Scioscia said. “If he can pitch to his capabilities, that will influence your team more than what he would do hitting, but he’s going to be important on the offensive end also.”
Scioscia also confirmed what has been widely assumed for months, that the Angels plan to use Ohtani as part of a six-man rotation.
“A lot of times it’s tough to find that fourth and fifth starter, but if everyone comes back and is healthy for us, we’re gong have some exceptional depth in our rotation,” Scioscia said. “It’s going to be guys you are going to want to go out and pitch. With a six-man rotation, it will take a little bit of the burden off guys to have to bounce back. We’re going to be flexible, but right now that looks like the way were going to map things out.”
Besides Ohtani, the Angels have Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs, Heaney and Shoemaker who appear to be locks for the rotation. The sixth starter is likely to be from a group including JC Ramirez, Parker Bridwell, Nick Tropeano and Jaime Barria.
Although Ohtani is used to pitching once a week in Japan, the other pitchers have all been used in a normal five-day rotation. Still, they seem OK with the idea of adjusting.
“If it’s a way for everyone to stay healthy and we can win ballgames, then I’m all for it,” Richards said. “If you are getting an extra day’s rest in between starts, theoretically you would think it would be a beneficial thing.”
Heaney, who had Tommy John surgery in 2016, added: “I think it’s going to be good. We’ve got eight, nine, 10 guys that could be big league starters on this team… I think it will take some adjustments for some guys, but it’ll be good.”
Ramirez, who had stem-cell therapy last September to repair a damaged ulnar collateral ligament, said he feels “normal,” although he’s not quite where he’d be after a healthy offseason. Ramirez said will throw his 10th bullpen session on Wednesday. He’s already thrown as many as 50 pitches in a session, including sliders.
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