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OC Register: Michael Lorenzen leaves his two-career days behind in new start with Angels

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In the fall of 2017, the Cincinnati Reds asked Michael Lorenzen to record a video as part of their campaign to lure Shohei Ohtani. They wanted Lorenzen to explain to Ohtani how he could be a two-way player for the Reds.

“Wait a second,” Lorenzen recalled thinking. “You’ve told me my entire career here that it’s impossible, that no one can do it. And now you’re having me recruit this guy?”

Although the Reds weren’t able to convince Ohtani to go to Cincinnati, his success as a two-way player with the Angels in 2018 paved the way for Lorenzen to finally get that opportunity in Cincinnati, in 2018 and 2019.

Ironically, now that Lorenzen, 30, is Ohtani’s teammate with the Angels, he’s not interested in being a two-way player, because the Angels are giving him a chance to start.

“Ultimately, I’ve been wanting to be a starter ever since after my rookie year,” Lorenzen said. “Now that I am a starter, I’m pretty happy about that. Of course, if they want me to hit, I’m willing to do it, but it’s not something that I’m fighting for.”

Lorenzen’s current lack of interest in being a two-way player represents a new landmark in his baseball journey, including when he was reluctant to be a two-way player at Cal State Fullerton.

Back then, the Fullerton High product didn’t want to pitch.

“I was a center fielder who would come in and just pick up his leg as high as he could and throw the ball as hard as he could,” Lorenzen said. “I didn’t throw any bullpens. I didn’t do anything with the pitchers. It was just that I had a good arm and would throw inside and had a good breaking ball. That was it.”

In fact, Lorenzen said he didn’t want to pitch at all during his junior year in college because he didn’t want scouts to get the idea that he was a pitcher. He wanted to be drafted as an outfielder.

The Reds picked him 38th overall, though, and they wanted him to pitch. They convinced him to sign as a pitcher.

“They told me I’d be in the big leagues that year if they drafted me as a pitcher,” Lorenzen said. “They lied. I got up to Triple-A and they decided not to call me up.”

The Reds also dismissed Lorenzen whenever he suggested that he could play outfield and pitch.

“It’s impossible,” the Reds told Lorenzen, as he recalled.

The organizational stance finally changed early in 2018, when interim manager Jim Riggleman took over the Reds and started using Lorenzen to pinch-hit. Lorenzen said the change was specifically because of what Ohtani was doing with the Angels.

In 34 plate appearances in 2018, Lorenzen hit .290 with four home runs. On the mound, he posted a 3.11 ERA in 81 innings. The following season, he got even more opportunities to be a two-way player, coming to the plate 53 times and playing 29 games in the outfield, including six starts. His average dropped to .208, though. He also pitched 83-1/3 innings. In 2019, Lorenzen became the first player since Babe Ruth to hit a homer, earn the win as a pitcher and play in the field in the same game.

“It was a lot of fun,” Lorenzen said. “I just had to keep everything simple. It was so many different jobs. Playing defense. Getting ready to pinch run. Getting ready to have an at-bat. They’d call me down from the bullpen. ‘Hey, you’re gonna hit second this inning, can you run down?’ So I’ve got to run down from the bullpen, get my batting gloves and go up and hit. It was a lot of fun.”

Circumstances didn’t allow for Lorenzen to get many opportunities at the plate in 2020 and 2021. Teams had expanded rosters in 2020 because of the shortened summer camp, so there was less need for the versatility of a two-way player. In 2021, Lorenzen was injured for much of the season.

Now, Lorenzen is a starter with the Angels, so he’s content to leave the two-way opportunities to Ohtani.

He hopes, though, that Ohtani’s success continues to lead teams to allow other young players to try to be two-way players.

“Kids will want to do that for sure,” he said. “It’s the front office that going to set the bar too high. Oh, unless you’re Shohei you’re not successful. That doesn’t make any sense to me. Unless you’re Max Scherzer you’re not a successful starting pitcher? That doesn’t make any sense.”

Major League Baseball is trying to encourage two-way players with the proposed Ohtani Rule, which allows a starting pitcher to also be the DH, and stay in the lineup after he’s done pitching.

Manager Joe Maddon said he’s not holding his breath for more two-way players.

“It’s not easy to find that guy that can excel at both arenas,” Maddon said. “It’s just it’s not easy to find. You see pitchers that can hit a little, but the physical toll and the mental toll that that takes, it takes a unique person. I’m sure it’s gonna happen again. I’m not saying it’s not. I don’t know you’re gonna find somebody to do it at his level in the near future.”

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Lorenzen is a bit of a pivot point in my assessment of the rotation.

As of today, I give the Angel front office a low overall grade on their offseason moves as it relates to the rotation.

It appears to me that they are pretty sure this guy is going to be a strong contributor.

I hope they are right.  If they were big brains on this, and he ends up being a really valuable starter, I will admit my assessment of the offseason starting rotation moves was incorrect.

Crossing my fingers (and this is what I didn’t want to have to do).

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