GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Angels starting pitcher and designated hitter Shohei Ohtani started his third game in the lineup Monday as he continues his first Major League Spring Training camp after five successful seasons in the Japanese Pacific League.
In the first inning of a 7-5 Angels win, Ohtani drove a Sal Romano offering deep into the gap in left-center, and only a spectacular play by Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton kept Ohtani from extra bases. Hamilton sprinted after the ball and caught up to it on a dive and somersault, holding onto the ball for a loud out.
"I was jammed a little bit, so I didn't think the ball was going to fall, and it didn't," Ohtani said. "I was glad I was able to put the bat on the ball."
Ohtani has played in three games now, and after his 0-for-3 Monday, he is hitting .143 (1-for-7) with an RBI single and two walks in the Cactus League. It's a small sample, but Ohtani is happy with the way he is progressing as he adjusts to big league pitching.
"I was able to check the strike zone," he said of the improvement in Monday's game. "I was able to put the bat on the ball. It's been a while, but there's some positive stuff."
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Ohtani hit second in the order against the Reds, with Jose Pujols hitting behind him. If hitting in front of Pujols isn't enough to make Ohtani comfortable, it's just a matter of time, according to his new teammate.
"He's got about six weeks here in Spring Training to get adjusted, find his program, find his routine," Pujols said. "He has a good approach at the plate for what he wants to do, and he works at it."
Pujols got his first hit of the spring, an RBI single to left in the third.
"His timing was a little off," manager Mike Scioscia said. "He hit it off the end of the bat. That's what these at-bats are for, just kind of find your timing."
Scioscia had a similar assessment of Ohtani, calling it "a matter of timing" before he starts to click.
"He hit one ball good to left-center," Scioscia said. "Shohei had good at-bats. He swung at pitches that he could hit."
Not that he needed any incentive, but Ohtani heard the news that Ichiro Suzuki may be returning to the Mariners, pending a physical Monday, which means Ohtani and Ichiro could face each other in the big leagues when the Angels travel to Seattle May 4-6.
"Hopefully I'll be on the roster and I'll be able to play against him," Ohtani said. "That would make me happy."
Going the other way
Ohtani is expected to be in the lineup again on Tuesday when the Angels travel to Salt River Fields to face the D-backs, and he is scheduled to pitch on Friday against the Tijuana Toros.
"Unless something changes, it would be the B game," Scioscia said, noting that they prefer pitching him in environments where they can easily control the number of pitches and the "ups and downs" between innings.
"At some point we have to take the water wings off and put him in the deep end," Scioscia said.
Heaney on point
Andrew Heaney threw three scoreless innings and allowed just two hits while striking out five. He's working to get back to the form he had in 2015, and he credits returning to the first base side of the rubber for his success. Heaney heeded to throw on the third base side of the rubber last season with the theory that pitchers stay healthier when they pitch on the arm side of the rubber, as opposed to the glove side, in part as a result of reducing the torque on their arm.
"I'm a rotational thrower, so throwing on the first base side gives me more angle and deception, and more degrees on rotation," Heaney said. "I was a little frustrated at the end of the year, feeling like, 'This isn't how I pitch, this isn't who I am.'
"Nothing drives you crazy like giving up 15 homers in 20 innings. That was historically bad."
So far the results have been on his side with a return to form.
"Andrew's making some adjustments," Scioscia said. "His delivery has more energy, it's compact, and he's throwing the ball very well right now. I think it's a step forward from ."
The Angels travel to Scottsdale to face Arizona at 12:10 p.m. PT Tuesday with JC Ramirez taking the hill. The game will be broadcast on FSW and AM830.