Eppler: Ohtani will continue throwing program

Angels players have three options after Spring Training was suspended

March 16th, 2020

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Like the rest of Major League Baseball, the Angels are mostly unsure of who will stay or go after the league's announcement to suspend the rest of Spring Training camps on Friday.

One certainty: will not be shut down and will continue to progress on the throwing program that had him in line to return to a Major League mound in May, according to Angels general manager Billy Eppler. Like the rest of the Angels’ players, the club is still determining where it will proceed with its offseason workouts.

MLB’s announcement gives Angels players three options

• Remain in the Phoenix area and work out at the club’s Spring Training facility.
• Travel to Anaheim and continue their workouts at Angel Stadium.
• Return to their offseason home away from either facility.

The Angels are giving players and staff Friday night to determine their individual course.

Minor Leaguers will also be allowed to remain in Arizona.

The directives released on Friday were a significant development of those that MLB laid out on Thursday after determining to cancel the rest of Spring Training games and postponing the regular season to help combat the spread of the coronavirus.

“I think we're watching the world move at a pace, clearly the western world, move at a pace that is relatively unfamiliar,” Eppler said. “And so, I think in this evolving environment, the union and MLB are having discussions about what's best for our players, what's best for our staffs and adopting or implementing procedures or qualities accordingly. Our job is to respond to those policies and procedures and handle the logistics and the heavy lifting of that.”

No Angels player or staff member has shown symptoms of or received a test for the coronavirus, Eppler said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended testing only people with symptoms and who were potentially exposed to the virus.

“We have a pretty mindful and aware group and we continue to communicate that. Daily wouldn't even be the right word,” Eppler said. “We're communicating that in every conversation that we have with a player or staff member or anybody inside our facility, to be mindful and be safe and be aware.”

The Angels will keep a group of coaches in Arizona for players that choose to stay. Position players will be able to take batting practice and field ground balls and fly balls, while pitchers will be able to throw supervised bullpen sessions. All will receive strength and conditioning work, supervised athletic training, medical support and meals. The same will be offered for players that elect to head to Anaheim and work out at Angel Stadium.

Angels manager Joe Maddon will either remain in Phoenix or go to California, Eppler said, but that decision wasn’t yet made.

The club canceled a 2 p.m. MST in-person meeting on Friday in light of the new mandate, which was shared to Eppler on a conference call with the other Major League general managers and officials from MLB and the MLB Players Association around 12:30 p.m. MST. Instead, the Angels will reconvene on Saturday.

“We're encouraging them to do what they're comfortable doing,” Eppler said. “We're not really offering advice because we have the ability to facilitate their needs either here in Arizona or in Los Angeles. Some might choose to return home for the time being. That's how we're communicating with our players and staff. And, as you can imagine, it's an ongoing process.”

Ohtani still isn’t quite 100% on the mound, but when he’s ready, Eppler said he will be able to face live hitters. The two-way phenom has been throwing low-intensity bullpens all spring, approaching 60 pitches as recently on Wednesday. He will face a conundrum among all big league pitchers of maintaining the momentum they’ve reached in their pitch count but not building a full workload.

All Angels pitchers will be requested to keep their arms active and continue throwing bullpens, even if they decide to leave Arizona, Eppler said. MLB has not outlined if there will be a formal regathering in a camp-like setting for players -- particularly pitchers -- to build their workloads before the start of the regular season.

“If we are given a two-, three-, maybe even four-week ramp-up time, that should be ample time to kind of build that pitch volume back up to where we'd certainly like to have guys at 75 pitches, maybe even 90 pitches, prior to the start of the regular season,” Eppler said. “But I know that in my conversations with MLB and their correspondence with the union, player safety is at the forefront of their thought process, so they will make the accommodations that they need to do to ensure that players are ready to play the regular season at their accustomed level.”