The Angels held their first live bullpen sessions of the spring on Tuesday, and two-way star Shohei Ohtani served as a hitter, facing right-handers Aaron Slegers, Kyle Keller, Ben Rowen and Brendan McCurry.
Ohtani worked hard to improve his mechanics at the plate this offseason and even faced live pitching before arriving to camp. Ohtani believes he got away from his swing last year, when he posted a .190/.291/.366 slash line with seven home runs and 24 RBIs in 44 games. Specifically, Ohtani has worked on correcting a tendency to lift his back (left) leg as he swings, which was a bad habit he picked up after undergoing surgery on that knee in September 2019.
"The biggest change was making sure my back foot is planted and it's feeling strong," Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. "It's something I noticed since last year and the coaches talked to me about it. I was coming off my knee surgery so it was hard for me to get all my work in. My leg was a little bit weaker because of that but it's all good now."
Ohtani also explained his decision to face live pitching earlier in the offseason than usual, noting he simply wasn’t able to do it in recent offseasons because he was rehabbing injuries, such as his Tommy John surgery in 2018 and his left knee operation in ’19.
"It's always nice to see live pitching as early as possible,” Ohtani said. “The last couple years, I was coming off surgery and rehabbing, so I was unable to do that. But before when I was in Japan, I was seeing live pitchers early, kind of like this year. So it's kind of like the norm."
Angels manager Joe Maddon has made it a point to be more communicative with Ohtani this year and has helped him keep a positive mindset. Ohtani has been appreciative of Maddon’s efforts and wants to repay him with a big season as a two-way player.
"Since Day 1, he's always been looking out for me and asking how I'm doing,” Ohtani said. “He had a lot of expectations for me, but last year, I don't think I was able to live up to them. So, this year, I want to go beyond his expectations."
• Right-hander Jose Alberto Rivera, a Rule 5 Draft pick, officially reported to camp after experiencing visa issues coming from the Dominican Republic. Rivera has a fastball that can reach triple digits. In 2019, he went 5-5 with a 3.81 ERA, 95 strikeouts and 36 walks in 75 2/3 innings with Class A Quad Cities in the Astros’ organization. Rivera will get a long look in camp, as the Angels must keep him on the 26-man roster for the entire ’21 season, or else he must be exposed on waivers and offered back to the Astros for $50,000.
• Other pitchers who threw live bullpen sessions included Luke Bard, Gerardo Reyes, Dillon Peters, Thomas Pannone, Jake Faria, Jake Reed and Hector Yan.