On mound, Ohtani struggles in big spring test

Japanese pitcher allows 7 runs; Scioscia likes stuff despite inconsistency

March 16th, 2018

TEMPE, Ariz. -- On the first day of the Winter Meetings in December, Angels general manager Billy Eppler was asked if he could guarantee that would be on the club's Opening Day roster.

At the time, the question elicited chuckles.

"I wouldn't say," Eppler said. "I can't guarantee that. No, I can't."

That question isn't being asked in jest anymore.

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Facing a lineup stocked with most of the Rockies' regulars, Ohtani was rocked for seven runs over 1 1/3 innings in the Angels' 18-6 loss at Tempe Diablo Stadium on Friday. Ohtani gave up seven hits, including home runs to and , while walking one and striking out three.

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The Angels had hoped Ohtani would be able to throw 75 pitches over four or five innings, but he needed 50 pitches to record four outs.

"You saw some electric stuff that he threw, and then you saw some inconsistency," manager Mike Scioscia said. "We'll review the outing, review the video. You saw the stuff that's there. His stuff is picking up, which is a good sign. Harnessing it is what we're going to have to work on."

Including Minor League starts, Ohtani has now allowed 17 runs (15 earned) on 18 hits over 8 1/3 innings (16.20 ERA) in his four outings this spring. He hasn't fared much better as a hitter, going 2-for-20 in Cactus League play. A month ago, Ohtani's spot on the Angels' Opening Day roster seemed all but guaranteed, but his struggles this spring have muddied his standing.

"We're not going to get into roster decisions," Scioscia said before the game. "I can only say that Shohei's talent is real. Obviously we believe in it. We anticipate him being ready to both pitch and hit when the season starts. And we're going to work hard to reach that goal from now until we start the season. That's what we're going to focus on."

Friday represented Ohtani's biggest test against Major League hitters this spring, as his two previous outings had come in "B" games against Minor League competition.

For the first inning, at least, Ohtani appeared to rise to the challenge. Ohtani opened the game by issuing a leadoff walk to Charlie Blackmon, but he needed only three pitches to retire DJ LeMahieu, who struck out looking on a nasty slider. After Arenado singled to put runners on first and third, Ohtani fired a 98-mph fastball past for his second strikeout. He emerged from the inning unscathed by inducing a 3-4-3 groundout from .

But Ohtani was then forced to sit for an extended period as the Angels scored three runs off in the bottom of the first. He tried to stay warm by throwing a ball against a net in between innings, but the long layoff still seemed to affect him when he returned to the mound for the second, as he surrendered a leadoff home run to Desmond on a 2-0 fastball and then hit Chris Iannetta on the hands. and followed with back-to-back singles to load the bases with no outs, and Blackmon tied the game with a two-run single up the middle.

"The first inning he threw the ball really well," pitching coach Charlie Nagy said. "In the second inning, his arm looked a little slower. The ball was up a little bit, and they were hitting it."

After another run-scoring single by LeMahieu, Arenado blasted a 3-2 pitch to left-center field for a three-run homer, extending Colorado's lead to 7-3. Ohtani struck out Story swinging before Scioscia decided to lift him in favor of reliever Tyler Warmoth.

"I feel like every outing is a new learning experience," said Ohtani, who logged a three-inning session in the bullpen after departing the game. "Today I felt like I made some good pitches, but some of the hits found holes in the infield, so maybe the luck wasn't on my side a little bit on some of the hits. But I just need to continue doing what I'm doing."

The Angels had been planning on using Ohtani as part of their six-man rotation this year, but those plans could be disrupted if the team decides the 23-year-old would be better served by opening the season in the Minors. Ohtani is technically in camp as a non-roster invitee, as he joined the Angels on a Minor League deal in December.

"I'm not trying to worry about all that stuff right now," Ohtani said via interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. "I'm just trying to do what I can do each day. That's up to the manager and front office to decide, so I don't have much to say on that."