Shohei Ohtani’s first official BP with Angels shows he can perform under pressure
TEMPE, Ariz. — Shohei Ohtani demonstrated his ability to perform under pressure during his first major league-style batting practice session with the Angels on Wednesday.
After a few rounds, he learned about the traditional way that BP ends in the majors. As long as the hitter hits balls that the coaches judge to be “hits,” he gets to continue.
Just after hearing this explanation, Ohtani belted an opposite-field homer. He followed that with a deep drive that almost cleared the fence again, but Manager Mike Scioscia insisted it was an “out.”
Although Ohtani’s first official batting practice session had that highlight, Ohtani said it left something to be desired. In Japan, batting practice rounds are longer, and the BP pitchers throw from the mound, instead of in front of it.
“I wasn’t really used to that style, so I wasn’t able to perform at my best,” he said through his interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara. “I’ll have fun making some adjustments.”
Ohtani described his day in front of a press conference packed with about 200 media members, an event at which the Angels also announced the first significant financial windfall from Ohtani’s presence. Funai, a Japanese electronics company, will sponsor the backdrop at Angels press conferences and some advertising at Angel Stadium.
The Angels are clearly capitalizing on the eyeballs certain to follow Ohtani’s every move.
As Ohtani attempts to live up to the hype as a two-way star in the majors, all of his milestone moments are certain to be closely chronicled, and Wednesday marked a significant step.
With Angels pitchers, catchers and one pitcher/designated hitter holding their first workout of the spring, Ohtani went through the standard stretching and agility drills. He played catch. He practiced covering first and fielding bunts, all the mundane exercises that fill the early spring for pitchers. Then, when the other pitchers had headed for the clubhouse, Ohtani hit with the catchers.
On Thursday, he will throw his first bullpen session. He’ll face hitters in batting practice for the first time over the weekend, Scioscia said.
Although Ohtani had been working out informally for several days in Arizona, this time he pulled on a full Angels workout uniform and went through his paces under the eyes of Scioscia and General Manager Billy Eppler.
“Once I put on my new Angels jersey, I felt this is going to be a new year,” he said. “I was simply very excited to set my feet on the ground.”
A few hours earlier, Scioscia said he doesn’t expect Ohtani to have any problems with the pressure.
“I think this guy is very well grounded,” Scioscia said. “I think he understands it. He’s going to be fine. I don’t think he’s going to be consumed with anything but getting himself ready on the field and handling the other things afterward.”
The adjustments will be numerous, and Ohtani addressed many of them during a 30-minute press conference, held at a ballroom in a hotel adjacent to the ballpark.
Ohtani said he’s going to communicate daily with the coaches and the training staff about the nature and volume of his workouts. As Ohtani attempts to succeed as a pitcher and a hitter, preventing injury and overwork from either pursuit will be critical.
Scioscia reiterated before the workout that the Angels will not add any outfield practice for Ohtani, who played outfield his first couple seasons in Japan.
“We are not looking at him to play a position,” Scioscia said.
The Angels will put only one restriction on Ohtani’s use of his plus speed while he’s on the bases, telling him not to slide head first. Ohtani said that’s not a problem, since his team in Japan also prohibited head-first slides.
Otherwise, though, Ohtani is going to be free to use his speed, including stealing bases, Scioscia said.
“He’s a special athlete and he’s had great success in Japan running the bases and doing things a position player needs to do to try to get himself in position to score a run,” Scioscia said. “He has a great stride. He has tremendous speed. He can steal a base. I want him to play baseball.”
Off the field, the 23-year-old is adjusting to living alone for the first time – “I feel kind of lonely by myself in a three-bedroom place.” – and to bonding with his new teammates. He said he’s played golf and basketball with them.
“I am having a pretty good time so far,” he said.
Earlier this week, Ohtani stopped by to visit his former teammates with the Nippon Ham Fighters, who are also training in Arizona. Hideki Kuriyama, the Fighters manager, said Ohtani told him that he feels “he has great teammates, and he feels it’s a good atmosphere.”
Kuriyama, who watched Ohtani’s batting practice as a guest of the Angels, said he thinks the spotlight is actually going to help Ohtani perform in the majors: “He is the type of player who will perform better with a lot of pressure on his shoulders.”
In a small way, he showed that with one batting practice homer.
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