Ohtani's usage in desert; Walsh gets breather

June 9th, 2021

ANAHEIM -- There’s not much that can stop this season, but the two-way star will be limited to pinch-hitting duties this weekend against the D-backs with National League rules in place at Chase Field.

Ohtani is scheduled to make his ninth start on the mound on Friday and will hit as the pitcher, but Angels manager Joe Maddon said he doesn’t plan to start Ohtani in the outfield on Saturday or Sunday. It’s a similar approach to the club’s two-game Interleague series in San Francisco, when Ohtani only served as a pinch-hitter on May 31.

"He'll pitch the first night," Maddon said. "At this point in the year, until everybody has a more established comfort zone, we'll just keep him for pinch-hitting purposes."

Maddon, though, has indicated in the past that he’d be open to having Ohtani pinch-hit and then move to the outfield for a few innings to get an another at-bat. Ohtani has made four appearances in the outfield this year, with three in right field and one in left. He's moved to right field after coming out of the game as a pitcher to remain in the lineup three times, and also played left field in an emergency situation against the Astros on April 24.

Maddon said he’s in constant contact with Ohtani about his usage, adding that his easy-going nature makes him easy to manage. Maddon's also noticed a difference in the way Ohtani carries himself this season, given the success he’s had as both a hitter and a pitcher.

“I can easily say that I'm seeing him laugh far more than at any time last year,” Maddon said. "He's totally engaged. He's comfortable. He's a normal member of the group. More at ease than I saw last year."

Maddon noted that Ohtani’s mechanics have also been much better on the mound this season and continue to improve. He’s been walking fewer batters in recent outings -- in his last start against the Mariners on Friday, he struck out 10 and didn’t walk a batter for the first time in 20 career starts. Ohtani, who also entered Wednesday with a team-leading 16 homers, has a 2.76 ERA with 60 strikeouts, 26 walks and four homers allowed in 42 1/3 innings.

"I just think for lack of a better term, he has better tempo through his delivery,” Maddon said. “Last year, he'd be slow and then try to jerk it at the end to try to find velocity. Maybe he just feels better. I don't know. But I am seeing him get ahead in counts and then that splitter becomes dynamic."

Walsh held out of lineup
First baseman Jared Walsh was given a scheduled day off on Tuesday with left-hander Kris Bubic starting for Kansas City. Walsh, who is hitting .298/.364/.558 with 13 homers and 40 RBIs, had played in 58 of the club's first 60 games and Maddon felt he was due for a break, especially coupled with an off-day coming on Thursday.

“I’m just letting the schedule dictate when to give a guy a day off and that’s all that is,” Maddon said. “We have an off-day coming up, and I think if we can keep him fresh, he can sustain these kinds of numbers all year. Conversely, if we run him into the ground, it could go away.”

Stassi moved up to cleanup hitter
Catcher Max Stassi continues to show that his breakout campaign last year was no fluke, as he’s fared well offensively this season and was moved up to cleanup hitter on Tuesday. Stassi entered Tuesday's game hitting .318/.388/.568 with three homers and six RBIs in 16 games.

“There’s a lot of offense in there,” Maddon said. “I think he’s becoming a more knowledgeable hitter. I think he’s understanding himself a little bit better. He made a definite change. When he first got here, there was a lag in his swing and it was almost like shallowing a golf club. He was under and trying to lift everything. Now, he’s way more direct to the ball.”

Stassi said he’s been working on shortening his swing and was pleased to see some results on Monday, when he went 3-for-4 with a homer, a double and three RBIs. He could get another start on Wednesday, as Kurt Suzuki remains Ohtani’s personal catcher and will be in the lineup on Friday.

"I'm just trying to keep it compact and keep my balance at 50-50," Stassi said. "I don't want to be on my backside. But yeah, so far, so good."