Two-way star Shohei Ohtani continued his strong spring in the Angels' 7-3 win on Friday, striking out five batters in 1 2/3 innings against the A’s in his Cactus League debut as a pitcher at Hohokam Stadium. It came just two days after he crushed a homer an estimated 468 feet over the batter’s eye in center as a designated hitter at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
Ohtani touched 100 mph with his fastball, which is also what he reached in a live bullpen session on Saturday. He struck out three batters in his highly anticipated first inning, working around a double and a walk. His fastball command was solid and his splitter had elite movement, though he had some trouble locating his slider. He also gave up a pair of doubles and one walk in the second, but he struck out two batters before exiting for reliever Kyle Keller after having thrown 41 pitches (24 strikes).
“I was able to simulate some situations with runners on base,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “I was able to get into some real game situations. Because it was my first game, I wasn’t planning on letting it go in the beginning, but as the game went on, I felt better and started throwing harder. But it also led to me cutting the ball a couple times, so it’s something I have to work on.”
Manager Joe Maddon liked what he saw from Ohtani, who pitched exclusively out of the stretch against Oakland, just like he did last season. But this year, his mechanics appear to be back in order.
"It really starts with his delivery, I think it's more clean and consistent," Maddon said. "I like his arm stroke better. It starts there and then he's able to recapture the velocity he's had in the past, and the really good break of his splitter. The big thing for his success is going to be repetition of delivery and knowing where his fastball is going consistently."
It was a huge improvement from last year, when Ohtani never quite looked comfortable on the mound and struggled with his control in his two outings before getting shut down with a right forearm/elbow strain. Last season marked Ohtani’s return to the mound after Tommy John surgery in 2018 and left knee surgery at the end of the ’19 season. He was the American League Rookie of the Year in ’18 before the injuries, and this is his first season since that he has been fully healthy.
The Angels plan to be more aggressive with Ohtani this season as a result -- Maddon revealed on Friday that Ohtani will simply be part of the six-man rotation and will not be limited to pitching on a specific day of the week, like he’s done in the past with his starts coming on Sundays in ’18 and ’20.
“Whenever his day comes up, his day comes up,” Maddon said. “We haven’t decided the pecking order. But once that’s established, he’ll be part of that order and be like everybody else.”
Ohtani said he’s on board with the decision to pitch more in 2021 and he’ll work to find a routine that will keep him ready in between starts without as much rest. He also noted that with off-days, he still might only pitch once a week in certain scenarios, and he believes he’ll still find plenty of time to serve as DH. There also remains a chance he could be in the lineup the day before or after his starts, which is also something the Angels avoided in the past.
“We’re not trying to set a cement schedule for my hitting,” Ohtani said. “We’ll go by ear on how I’m feeling and I’ll communicate that to the coaching staff.”
• Third baseman Anthony Rendon wasn’t in the lineup on Friday, but Maddon said that he isn’t injured. They’re just taking it slow with him early in spring after he experienced some general soreness.
• Outfield prospect Brandon Marsh is getting closer to seeing time in the outfield after being limited to DH duty with a minor arm injury.
• Reliever Junior Guerra, who was a late arrival to camp because of visa issues, threw a bullpen session on Friday and Maddon believes the righty will have enough time to get ready for the season. Guerra is a non-roster invitee, but he has a career 3.77 ERA in six seasons and has a solid chance of making the team with a strong spring.