Los Angeles Angels plans to use Shohei Ohtani as part of six-man rotation manager Mike Scioscia says
TEMPE, Ariz. — Shohei Ohtani is quickly discovering how his every move at Los Angeles Angels‘ camp will be scrutinized this spring. About 50 Japanese media members gathered at the entrance of the player parking lot at Tempe Diablo Stadium for his arrival Tuesday. Later on, in the clubhouse, a wall of reporters looked on intently as he sifted through a box of belongings at his locker and tried on his batting practice uniform for the first time.
Over the coming days and weeks, Ohtani will get a better read on how his teammates will try to ease his transition and his new club will accommodate his quest to blaze a trail as a two-way player in the majors.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia provided some insights into the nuts and bolts of the team’s plans for Ohtani in conjunction with the reporting date for pitchers and catchers. Scioscia confirmed that Ohtani will be part of a six-man starting rotation in Anaheim, and his exposure as a designated hitter will be based in part on the workload he’s prepared to handle. The Angels regard Ohtani as a pitcher first, and they’ll work off that assumption in assessing his offensive role.
“He’s going to get the most looks as a pitcher,” Scioscia said. “If he can pitch to his capabilities, that will always influence your team more than what he would do hitting. But that’s not to say he won’t have a chance to be a difference maker on the offensive end, too.
“There’s a certain novelty to it. You’ve had Madison Bumgarner swing the bat with the Giants, but not like we’re trying to implement with Shohei. I don’t think it’s going to be that big of an issue. We need him to pitch. He’s a big part of our rotation. Secondary to that, when he has an opportunity to swing the bat, we definitely want to take a look at him.”
Ohtani, 23, arrives in the U.S. with massive expectations stemming from his moniker as “Japan’s Babe Ruth.” He routinely surpassed 100 mph on the radar gun as a pitcher and displayed his power by launching 22 homers and slugging .588 for the Nippon Ham Fighters at age 21.
The Angels emerged from a group of seven finalists to land Ohtani on Dec. 8. He received a signing bonus of $2.135 million and will receive the major-league minimum salary of $545,000 this season. If Ohtani had waited two more years, he almost certainly would have commanded a nine-figure contract under the terms of baseball’s labor agreement.
Ohtani is scheduled to give his first news conference in camp Wednesday afternoon. He showed up in Arizona more than a week ago and has impressed the Angels’ other early arrivals with his humble demeanor and abundant skills.
“It’s crazy,” said pitcher Matt Shoemaker. “I only saw a couple of swings, but they were easy swings and the ball just jumps. And we know what he can do on the mound, especially velocity-wise. The ball comes out hot.”
Ohtani took a physical exam Tuesday, logged some swings in the cage and played long toss on the main field with his interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara. At one point Scioscia was addressing the media along the right field line at Tempe Diablo when he spotted Ohtani emerging from a back cage. Scioscia turned, yelled “Hey!” and took a few steps to shake Ohtani’s hand as cameras clicked.
“I guess his physical was OK,” Scioscia said upon returning to the microphone. “He’s here.”
In 2016, Ohtani posted a 10-4 record and a 1.86 ERA as a pitcher and hit .322 in 323 at-bats with the Fighters. He missed much of last season with a right ankle injury that required surgery in October.
In December, it was revealed that Ohtani had received a platelet rich plasma injection last fall for a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow. Angels general manager Billy Eppler released a statement that Ohtani’s MRI readings were “consistent with players his age,” and reiterated that the Angels were “very happy to have the player.”
Nevertheless, the Angels will try to ease the burden on Ohtani and their other starters this season by going with a six-man rotation. Depending on health, Garrett Richards, Ohtani, Tyler Skaggs, Andrew Heaney and Shoemaker look like good bets for the first five spots. Parker Bridwell, Nick Tropeano and J.C. Ramirez are the other three pitchers in the mix.
“In talking with Billy Eppler and everyone who’s dived into this, we all feel very comfortable with it,” Scioscia said. “Let’s get the six best guys we have and get after it. It will not only pay dividends for Shohei, but with the rest of our staff to hopefully keep them effective and strong through the whole season. That’s going to be very important to our team this year. We’re going to be flexible, but that looks like the way we’re going to map things out.”