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OC Register: Angels adjust to preparation without seeing another team


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ANAHEIM — As Mickey Callaway saw it, one of Shohei Ohtani’s problems the first time he pitched in a game during the Angels summer camp was the opposition.

“The biggest factor in his command right now has been facing his own hitters,” the Angels pitching coach said. “The day he had to face some of those guys he was a little erratic, not really wanting to throw the ball inside for fear of hitting them.”

Ohtani walked seven of 10 hitters he faced in his first outing, but on Monday he pitched in another intrasquad game, this time facing mostly Angels players who don’t figure to be on the Opening Day roster. He was much better the second time.

The difference highlighted one of the many adjustments teams have had to make in this coronavirus-altered year. They are now forced to rely on intrasquad games, instead of traditional exhibition games, to get ready for the season.

Each team is allowed a maximum of three exhibitions against other teams, and the Angels will play all three next week, facing the Padres twice, sandwiched around a game against the Dodgers.

In the meantime, their daily intrasquad games have been a mixed bag of pluses and minuses, when compared to traditional exhibition games.

The biggest negative may be pitchers changing their approaches to make sure they don’t hit anyone.

“When I’m throwing a cutter inside to a righty, I’m trying to hit the knob of the bat,” lefty Ryan Buchter said last week on MLB Network Radio. “Sometimes I’ll tell myself to make sure I get it inside to hit them in the chest. When there’s a coach or a player standing in, or let’s just say it’s (Albert) Pujols or (Mike) Trout or one of those guys, anybody on our team, doesn’t matter the name, you don’t have that same intensity. You don’t have that same mindset to make that pitch. And you need to learn how to make that pitch.”

Callaway, a former big league pitcher, conceded that it’s an issue for the preparation of pitchers.

“That’s probably the biggest downfall,” Callaway said. “You’re always worried about one slipping out and plunking one of your own guys.”

Manager Joe Maddon said another issue is the intensity level is somewhat lower without another team on the field.

“There’s definitely going to be a little more amperage involved when you’re playing against somebody wearing something different than you,” he said.

All of that, however, is outweighed by other benefits, most significantly that situations can be manipulated to get everyone exactly the quantity and type of work you want.

For pitchers, there are no long or short innings in intrasquad games. When a pitcher is set to pitch an inning, he’s going to throw 15 to 20 pitches, whether he gets one out or five.

If a hitter needs more at-bats, he can bat whenever he wants. On Sunday, Ohtani hit for both “teams,” including multiple at-bats in one half inning.

Saturday’s game, which was primarily to get work for a few relief pitchers, included just three or four hitters rotating through on each side. Several players played defense without hitting.

Lately, the Angels have also been starting innings with a runner at second base, which simulates the new extra innings rule that will be used this year.

Finally, the Angels have been mixing in fundamental drills during the intrasquad games. After a pitcher is done with his normal work, he’ll stay on the mound for a couple quick fielding drills. The Angels have also practiced cut offs and relays or bunt defenses in the middle of the intrasquad games.

“When it’s game speed, guys are hot, arms are loose, you get a better look at it,” Maddon said. “You gain reps with hot bodies, where guys are ready to rock and roll.”

Maddon has actually felt the intrasquad work has been beneficial enough that he’d like to try more of it during a traditional spring training.

“This may open up the thought of doing more of these before you actually start playing spring training games,” he said, “because I am really enjoying the work and so are the coaches.”

ALSO

Brandon Marsh reported on Tuesday and was in the dugout during the intrasquad game. Marsh had been placed on the injured list, although the team did not specify a physical injury and had not commented on the reason for his absence. …

Callaway, who managed the New York Mets for the past two years, fully endorsed the Angels waiver claim of right-hander Jacob Rhame from the Mets. “This kid has a big arm, and he can really spin the ball,” Callaway said. “When we heard he was available, we really wanted to jump at the opportunity to be able to get this kid. Outstanding young man, works really, really hard has made some great adjustments over the years. I really feel like Jacob Rhame is going to be able to have a very, very productive career. And right now I feel like he just needs reps at the major league level to go out there and prove himself.” …

The Angels still don’t know when Julio Teheran is going to join the team. Teheran is on the injured list, and he told ESPN Deportes last week he was awaiting results of a coronavirus test, but there’s been no update. Callaway said he’s not concerned about Teheran’s ability to help, at some point. “He’s such a professional and he’s been doing this for so long that he’s going to understand what it takes to step in at any given point in the season and he’ll be impactful,” Callaway said.

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