Notes: Ohtani's 'baby steps'; call for civility

March 7th, 2020

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Angels two-way star has been experimenting with a leg kick at the plate this spring and has endured a slow start offensively, but he said it’s all part of the process as he finds his timing.

After going 1-for-2 with a walk and a strikeout against the D-backs in a 6-6 tie on Saturday at Tempe Diablo Stadium, Ohtani is hitting .143 (2-for-14) with nine strikeouts in 18 plate appearances as a designated hitter. He’s not using his leg kick in every at-bat, but he has tinkered with it as he tries to decide what to use in the regular season.

“I’m taking baby steps forward,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “But how I feel at the plate while I’m loading, I feel a lot better. Things should be coming along. Of course, it would be better if I had more hits and more home runs, but right now I’m looking for feel and seeing the ball at the plate. I’d rather not have lucky hits. I’d rather keep those for the season. Even if I don’t have the right results, I want to feel good at the plate. That’s what I’m looking for.”

Ohtani utilized a leg kick in Japan and used it in Spring Training in 2018, only to ditch it right before the start of his rookie season. He found immediate success in the Majors without the leg kick and has batted .286/.351/.532 with 40 homers, 41 doubles, 123 RBIs and 22 stolen bases in 210 games over the past two years.

But he saw his power decline in the second half of last year, with only four homers over his final 53 games. So Ohtani has made it a goal to tap into more power and increase his launch angle, which went down from an average of 12.3 degrees in '18 to 6.8 degrees in '19.

Ohtani, though, still hasn’t decided whether he will carry his leg kick over into the regular season. He said he feels comfortable either way.

“I still haven’t made the decision,” Ohtani said. “I’ve been working on it the whole offseason. If it feels good going into Opening Day, I might use the leg kick. But it’s something I’ve been doing my whole life. So it shouldn’t be too much of a transition.”

Ohtani has also continued to throw bullpen sessions this spring with an aim of returning to the rotation in mid-May, as he’s coming off both Tommy John surgery and left knee surgery. Ohtani’s next bullpen session is slated for Sunday.

Maddon to instruct Angels pitchers not to plunk Astros
Angels manager Joe Maddon said Saturday that he plans to hold a meeting with his pitchers to discourage them from hitting Astros players with pitches this season. The Angels open the season in Houston on March 26, and their home opener is also against the Astros on April 3.

“I’m going to have a talk with the boys about not doing anything,” Maddon said. “I think it’s more, appreciate to play the game. I think this has been bandied about enough. There’s no other way. It’s been sliced and diced. It’s been in the Veg-O-Matic long enough. Let’s go play baseball, let’s get things back together properly, let’s be civil about this and move on.”

Angels tidbits
• Reliever Ty Buttrey, sidelined by an intercostal injury, threw in a simulated game on Saturday and remains on track to make his Cactus League debut on Wednesday. Buttrey believes he'll be ready for Opening Day.

• Outfield prospect Brandon Marsh is making good progress in his recovery from a left elbow strain and could get back into games as early as next week. Marsh, ranked as the No. 79 overall prospect by MLB Pipeline, injured his elbow attempting to make a diving catch in his spring debut on Feb. 23. He’s expected to open the year at Triple-A Salt Lake.

• Right-hander Justin Anderson, who has been out with a left oblique strain, has had no setbacks in his recovery but still won’t be ready for Opening Day. The inflammation in his oblique is now gone but he’s yet to start baseball activities.

• Catcher Anthony Bemboom had an impressive second inning, throwing out Ildemaro Vargas as he tried to steal second base and then homering in the bottom of the frame off D-backs right-hander Zac Gallen. Bemboom, who also singled in the fourth, is in the mix to be the 26th man on the roster if the Angels decide to carry three catchers.