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OC Register: Angels allow Shohei Ohtani to alter Opening Day preparation


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TEMPE, Ariz. — The theme for the Angels’ handling of Shohei Ohtani last season was trust. The Angels trusted Ohtani to manage his own workload, rather that imposing their restrictions on him.

There’s no reason for them to stop now.

Ohtani was scratched from his scheduled start Saturday because he told manager Joe Maddon and pitching coach Matt Wise that he preferred more rest between his spring starts, even if it meant one fewer start.

Ohtani is now scheduled to pitch a Cactus League game Thursday, which will be his final preparation for starting on Opening Day a week later.

Maddon and Ohtani were both clear that this decision is not related to any injury. Ohtani was the DH on Saturday, and he hit his first homer of the spring on the first pitch he saw.

“This is very unusual stuff,” Maddon said. “There’s no playbook. There’s no set way of doing this. I’m gonna listen to what he says. It kind of worked well last year.”

Ohtani, of course, had a historic season, hitting 46 homers and posting a 3.18 ERA in 130 1/3 innings, numbers that made him a unanimous MVP selection.

Throughout last year’s magical season, Maddon said he believed that Ohtani was flourishing because he was free of the restrictions the Angels placed on his playing time the last time he was a two-way player in 2018. The Angels were able to trust that Ohtani could handle the extra work because they also knew he’d tell them when he needed to dial it back.

That’s what he did in this case.

“It was announced officially I’d be the Opening Day starter, so I felt like it was good to take a couple days off to be able to get ready for Opening Day,” he said through his interpreter.

Maddon said he was told by Wise that Ohtani should be able to throw around 90 pitches on Opening Day. He threw 50 in his only other Cactus League start Monday. Presumably, he could increase to around 70 on Thursday and then be ready for 90 when the season starts April 7.

“It shouldn’t be a problem,” Ohtani said. “I felt good my last outing and have a lot of days in between.”

Ohtani had been scheduled to have four days’ rest before his second spring start, then five days before the third start and five days before Opening Day. While four is standard for most pitchers, Ohtani has always pitched on five or six days’ rest. He said he preferred not to push himself on shorter rest than usual in spring training, and he would make up for getting one less start by doing extra bullpen sessions or throwing live batting practice.

While it would be considered unusual for a pitcher to work in just two games before Opening Day, everything about Ohtani is unusual.

“Shohei has his own methods of doing things,” Maddon said. “Placekickers, punters, guys that do something different within a professional team, sometimes do things differently. There’s nobody on this whole roster that does what he does. There’s nobody in the entire industry that does what he does.”

Ohtani is the only player in baseball who will immediately be affected by the proposed change to the DH rule. “The Ohtani Rule,” now allows for a pitcher to start at DH, and remain in the game as the DH after he’s done pitching. The proposed rule still has to be approved by the clubs, although that’s believed to be a formality.

“I think it’s huge for me personally and for the team too,” Ohtani said. “It will take a little pressure off of me when I pitch.”

MIDDLE INFIELD CLARITY

Maddon said David Fletcher is the leading candidate to play shortstop, which means the Angels have shifted the competition among the other players from shortstop to second.

Tyler Wade and Matt Duffy can both play second, and both are essentially guaranteed spots on the Opening Day roster. Wade is a lefty and Duffy is a righty, so they could be a natural platoon.

Jack Mayfield, Luis Rengifo and Andrew Velazquez have all seen time at second and short this spring. All three can be optioned.

Duffy started at first base in Saturday’s game. He is one of the candidates to spell first baseman Jared Walsh against tough lefties. Walsh struggled against lefties last season, but right-handed hitters Duffy, Taylor Ward and Justin Upton could all play first.

NOTES

Mike Trout returned to the team Saturday morning, but he did not play in the game. Trout had been away from the team for a couple days to attend a funeral…

Ty Buttrey threw live batting practice Saturday. The Angels are still working to get Buttrey ready for a minor-league game or a B game. He can’t pitch in big-league exhibition games while he’s on he restricted list. Buttrey was placed on the restricted list last year when he decided to retire, but over the winter opted to return.

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