Ohtani leading off for Angels to begin season

March 27th, 2022

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Two-way star Shohei Ohtani has been batting almost exclusively at leadoff in Cactus League games this spring, and manager Joe Maddon said Sunday he plans to open the season with Ohtani as the Angels’ No. 1 hitter in the batting order.

It's not completely new for Ohtani, who served as leadoff hitter in 23 games last season. He excelled in that role, hitting .272/.388/.543 with six homers, 10 RBIs and five stolen bases. He mostly served as the No. 2 hitter last year, appearing in that spot in 117 games. He also hit leadoff Sunday in a 6-1 loss to the Giants, going 0-for-1 with two walks.

"I like him leading off, you can read into that,” Maddon said. “I think it’s the best spot for him. I like when the whole batting order protects him.”

Ohtani, 27, is expected to be followed by Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon and Jared Walsh in the batting order. David Fletcher, who served as the club's No. 1 hitter a team-leading 87 times last year, is likely to bat ninth.

Maddon said he likes the idea of having Trout and Rendon -- both right-handed hitters -- batting after Ohtani because if the opposing team brings in a lefty reliever to face Ohtani, they would have Trout and Rendon looming.

"I like how it balances out after that,” Maddon said. “You have to keep in mind the three-batter minimum. I used to set up a batting order based on left-right, left-right, but the three-batter minimum caused me to think of it in a different way."

Ohtani, who was named the club’s Opening Day starter, also threw a bullpen session Sunday to get ready for his next start Thursday against the Brewers in Phoenix. He was originally scheduled to start Saturday but decided to throw a bullpen session instead because he would’ve been on shorter rest than usual.

Trout plays in Minor League game
Trout left Angels camp Thursday to attend a funeral but returned Saturday. He didn’t play in either Cactus League game Saturday or Sunday but played in Minor League games Sunday to get more at-bats. Trout bounced between two different games and went 3-for-5 with a homer at the plate. He’s still expected to get enough at-bats to get ready for Opening Day.

Sandoval pleased with his outing against Giants
Lefty Patrick Sandoval made his first Cactus League start of the year Sunday, as he previously pitched in a Minor League game Monday. Sandoval gave up three runs on two hits and two walks over three innings. He struck out four and gave up a two-run homer to Mauricio Dubón in the third.

"The last two innings, I was trying to get in on righties with the fastball and then use the slider," Sandoval said. "I missed a couple times, but just getting back up for the fourth and feeling healthy was good. My big thing is that I feel healthy and strong."

Sandoval’s next start is scheduled to come Friday against the Reds, which lines him up to be the club’s No. 2 starter behind Ohtani.

"Sandy threw the ball well," Maddon said. "He wasn't that sharp with his command, but overall, I thought he looked really good. So I was pleased with that."

Warren experimenting with new pitch
Right-handed reliever Austin Warren had a strong rookie year in 2021, posting a 1.77 ERA with 20 strikeouts and five walks in 20 1/3 innings. It put him into prime position to be part of the Opening Day bullpen for the Angels.

Warren, though, said he's been tinkering with a new pitch this spring to expand his arsenal. Last year, he relied heavily on his sharp slider, throwing it 42.5% of the time, compared to his four-seam fastball (36.3%), sinker (18.3%) and changeup (2.9%). But this year, he's added a slower breaking slider to keep hitters guessing.

“The new slider is a little bit more sweepy,” Warren said. “It’s starting to come along. I started throwing it here in camp. I’ve always been able to locate the ball, so they just wanted me to work on something new.”