Ohtani goes 1-for-4 in first game at cleanup
ANAHEIM -- Three hours before the Angels' series finale against the Giants, Shohei Ohtani could be spotted in the bullpen in left field logging a 37-pitch throwing session that will serve as his final tuneup before his next start on the mound Tuesday against the Astros in Houston.
It was the only the beginning of Ohtani's work day, as the 23-year-old two-way phenom later returned to the Angels' lineup and batted cleanup for the first time in the club's 4-2 loss to the Giants on Sunday afternoon at Angel Stadium. Jose Pujols received a day off on Sunday, clearing the way for Ohtani to bat fourth and serve as the designated hitter in his stead.
"I wasn't really expecting it, but since it was Pujols' day off, that's probably why [Mike] Scioscia put me there," Ohtani said.
Ohtani struck out in his first two at-bats against Giants right-hander Johnny Cueto, but he stayed back on a changeup and lined it to right field for a single that loaded the bases in the sixth, though the Angels ultimately failed to score in the inning. He then grounded out in the eighth to finish 1-for-4.
"Shohei is swinging the bat very well," Scioscia said. "We felt good having him up there in a key position. Anybody who's hitting behind Mike [Trout] and Justin [Upton], that's an important spot for us. We thought he was ready for it, and we won't hesitate again if the situation comes up to get him up there if that's what it calls for."
During his pregame session with reporters, Scioscia was asked how many cleanup hitters around Major League Baseball were throwing bullpens prior to games.
"I see a lot of them doing some flat ground, messing around as they warm up," Scioscia said. "Not too many."
The more accurate answer is none. Ohtani is the first player to bat fourth and make at least three starts as a pitcher in the same season since Don Larsen for the 1961 Kansas City A's. It speaks to the unprecedented nature of what Ohtani is doing for the Angels this season.
In three starts on the mound, the right-hander is 2-1 with a 3.60 ERA and 19 strikeouts over 15 innings. He departed his last outing against the Red Sox after two innings on Tuesday with a blister on his right hand, but he got through his bullpen on Sunday without issue, allowing him to take his next turn in the rotation on Tuesday as scheduled.
"It's recovering as planned," Ohtani said of the blister.
As a left-handed batter, Ohtani is batting .333 with a .997 OPS, three home runs and 11 RBIs over 11 games, including one as a pinch-hitter. He began the season batting in the Angels' No. 8 spot for six games, followed by one game in the No. 7 spot and two games batting sixth.
Could Ohtani develop into a regular middle-of-the-order hitter at some point in his career?
"He has the potential," Scioscia said.
Middleton emerging as (unofficial) closer
He might not hold the official title, but Keynan Middleton continues to look like Scioscia's preferred closing option early this season. The 24-year-old right-hander recorded the final four outs of Saturday's 4-3 win over the Giants to pick up his fifth save of the year, which leads the team.
Scioscia has nevertheless shied away from anointing anyone the closer, as he prefers to keep bullpen roles fluid and deploy relievers based on matchups and other factors.
"He's going to be a high-leverage, late-inning guy, for sure," Scioscia said. "We're going to use these guys as the game dictates. He's going to be pitching late in games."
Middleton, for his part, said he's simply taking the ball when asked, though he acknowledged that he enjoys being used in save situations.
"I take pride in it," Middleton said. "It's something that I said I wanted to do for a while now, so if I get the job or when I get the job, I have an even bigger chip on my shoulder because I have something to protect. I'm excited about it. It fuels my fire."
• The Angels optioned reliever Eduardo Paredes to Triple-A Salt Lake to clear a roster spot for Jaime Barria, who started against the Giants on Sunday.