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OC Register: Angels’ Shohei Ohtani encouraged by first spring outing on the mound


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TEMPE, Ariz. — For all that Shohei Ohtani did last season, it’s easy to forget that last spring he was still a work in progress on the mound.

After Max Stassi worked with Ohtani in his 2022 spring debut on Monday, the Angels catcher said Ohtani already looks like the more polished version who finished 2021.

“Last year was his first full year coming back off (Tommy John surgery), so I think that there was a learning experience of getting back out there and feeling good, feeling healthy, attacking guys in the zone,” Stassi said. “I think he’s picked up right where he left off at the end of last year.”

Ohtani struck out five and didn’t walk any in 2-1/3 innings against the Kansas City Royals on Monday. He gave up three hits and one run.

Ohtani was scheduled for 45 pitches, but he threw 50, including 33 strikes.

“His stuff looked really refined,” Stassi said. “It was as good as last year, if not better. I’m glad he feels good and he’s healthy.”

Ohtani said last week that he hoped to perform even better in 2022 than he did in 2021, which would be a tall order. Ohtani starred as a two-way player and was the unanimous American League MVP.

On the mound, he was 9-2 with a 3.18 ERA, and 156 strikeouts in 130-1/3 innings. That included a somewhat ragged first month in which he walked a batter per inning in his first four starts.

He started off this spring with an encouraging performance.

“It felt good out there, for my first start,” Ohtani said through his interpreter.

He said he threw all of his pitches except his splitter.

“I had other priorities with my other pitches,” Ohtani said. “I feel like my splitter is always going to be there.”

Curiously, Stassi said he thought that Ohtani did throw some splitters. Ohtani apparently considered them changeups.

“I don’t know,” Stassi said with a smile. “They’re down there and hard, and I just go block them. Changeup. Split. Doesn’t matter. Whatever makes him comfortable.”

Ohtani said the pitch that gave him the most trouble was his slider.

The final two batters he faced both got hits off hanging sliders. Kyle Isbel, a left-handed hitter got a 3-and-2 pitch that he lined into right-center, just beyond the reach of diving Brandon Marsh. Isbel cruised into third with a triple.

Edward Olivares then fouled off four pitches before punching an RBI single up the middle.

“That’s something I need to work on,” Ohtani said of his slider.

Ohtani’s upcoming schedule is unclear. He is expected to be the Opening Day starter, but if he were to continue to pitch every sixth day, that would line him up for the second game of the season.

“There’s a few choices,” Ohtani said. “I could limit my pitch count and go on four days’ rest, or throw more pitches and go on longer rest. That’s something to keep discussing with the team.”

If Ohtani ramps up to about 65 to 70 pitches in his next start – likely on Sunday – he could then drop back down to 40 or so on April 2 and then have four days of rest before the April 7 opener.

DEADLINE DAY

Tuesday is the deadline for teams and players to exchange arbitration figures, and the Angels have three eligible players: Stassi, right-hander Mike Mayers and infielder Tyler Wade.

If the Angels don’t reach agreements with all of the players, they could end up going to a hearing to have a panel of arbitrators determine the player’s salary.

Normally, all of this happens in January and the beginning of February, but the lockout delayed the process. If there are arbitration hearings, they would take place during the season.

NOTES

Left-hander Patrick Sandoval pitched three innings in a minor league game, allowing one run. He struck out six and did not walk any. Sandoval pitched in the minor league game because Shohei Ohtani started in the big league game. …

Infielder Brendon Davis felt some tightness in his side during batting practice and has his activity limited for the past several days. He was scheduled to return to the field for some ground balls on Monday. …

Right-hander Cooper Criswell has been dealing with some shoulder inflammation. He has been shut down from throwing, possibly returning by the end of this week or next week. …

Denny Hocking has joined the Angels’ television broadcast team this week. A former big-league infielder, Hocking managed in the Angels’ farm system. Hocking is expected to continue working on Angels’ television broadcasts in some capacity during the regular season. …

The St. Louis Cardinals claimed Packy Naughton on waivers. The Angels designated Naughton for assignment to create a spot for Archie Bradley on the 40-man roster. …

Ty Buttrey still has not pitched in a minor league game, and the Angels haven’t decided when he will. Buttrey is still on the restricted list so the Angels can’t use him in major league spring training games. They have until early April to decide if they want to put him back on the 40-man roster. Buttrey was out of baseball last season when he retired, but he decided to make a comeback.

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