Two-way star Shohei Ohtani has wowed the Angels with his play this spring and was at it again on Wednesday. He crushed a mammoth home run over the batter’s eye in center field in the fifth inning off Rangers right-hander Hans Crouse during the Angels’ 6-2 Cactus League victory at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
The club estimated the blast at 468 feet, and it had an exit velocity of 107 mph.
Ohtani has also thrown as hard as 100 mph while facing hitters this spring and is scheduled for his first Cactus League start of the year on Friday against the A’s. And at the plate, he also has been showing off improved mechanics, including a 2-for-3 performance with two runs scored in his spring debut on Monday.
He appeared to top all of that with his homer on Wednesday. It cleared both the center-field fence that is 420 feet away and the 30-foot batter’s eye behind it in center. It came on a 3-2 pitch and was surprisingly the first Cactus League homer of Ohtani’s career. It also caused quite the celebration among his teammates, who couldn’t believe what they had witnessed.
"That's going to lead to a lot of confidence, not just that swing, but the whole at-bat and the way I was seeing pitches," Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. "I think there's room for growth, but I'm feeling good at this point."
Ohtani is proving he’s fully healthy after struggling last year in his return from both Tommy John surgery and a left knee operation. Ohtani was limited to two starts on the mound because of an elbow/forearm strain and has admitted his knee wasn’t at 100 percent while hitting last year. But he has worked to keep his back foot down while he swings, and it paid off in a big way with his memorable blast on Wednesday.
"That's what we've been seeing, even in regular batting practice," Angels manager Joe Maddon said. "Better balance, just a better overall approach. And that's a pitch that's normally been tough for him in the past, an elevated fastball with good velocity, but he got to it relatively easily. He's in a better place mentally, a better place physically. He's just doing so many things better."
Bundy solid in spring debut
Angels right-hander Dylan Bundy picked up right where he left off from last year’s breakout season, as he threw two scoreless innings against the Rangers in his spring debut.
Bundy, who posted a 3.29 ERA in 11 starts last year, didn't allow a hit after walking the first batter he faced. He also struck out Nate Lowe to end the first inning. Bundy was efficient, throwing 28 pitches, and went out to the bullpen after his outing to throw a few more pitches.
"I came out of there healthy, body felt good, arm felt good, stuff was spinning the way I wanted to," Bundy said. "You can always work on fastball location, I think, especially your first time back out there. This time in spring, my fastball location is not usually my best."
Angels to use Inland Empire as alternate site
With news that the Triple-A season will be pushed back by at least a month, alternate training sites are returning this season. This year, the Angels will use the facilities of their Class A affiliate, the Inland Empire 66ers in San Bernardino. Last year, they used Long Beach State’s Blair Field.
Maddon said he’s fine with the arrangement but wants to make sure that prospects get a full year of playing time after the Minor League season was canceled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s not perfect, but as long as they’re going to play, I’m good with it,” Maddon said, “as long as they’re going to get a full season of development.”
Rendon makes spring debut
Third baseman Anthony Rendon was held out of the first three games of the spring with general soreness but was in the lineup against the Rangers on Wednesday. Rendon went 1-for-2, ripping a double into the right-center-field gap in the fourth inning off right-hander Drew Anderson. He also made a strong play at third base on a ball hit by Ronald Guzmán in the second.
• Right-hander Jaime Barria threw in a simulated game on Wednesday instead of seeing action in Cactus League play. The Angels are waiting to see whether Barria will be granted an extra year of Minor League options, given the shortened season last year. If he remains out of options, he’ll make the team and is likely to be in the bullpen. If he’s granted another year, he could be stretched out to start in the Minors to increase the rotation depth.
• Catcher Max Stassi isn’t quite ready to appear in games after undergoing left hip surgery after the 2020 season but is participating in full workouts and is getting close to making his spring debut. Stassi is expected to be ready for the start of the regular season and will serve as the club’s primary catcher, with Kurt Suzuki serving as his backup.
• Closer Raisel Iglesias made his Angels debut in the third inning and was greeted by a leadoff homer from Steele Walker. Iglesias served up just one homer all last season. The right-hander settled down from there and retired the next three batters, including Charlie Culberson on a strikeout.