Ohtani (5K) threw fire in her spring debut

TEMPE, Ariz. – Phenomenon Shohei Ohtani’s first start this spring went exactly as planned: He pitched a solid 2 1/3 innings and struck out five against the Royals Monday afternoon at Tempe Diablo Stadium.

Ohtani, the reigning AL MVP, threw 50 pitches, 34 of them for strikes. He has a good shot at being the team’s Opening Day starter and is trying to set up his arm to get close to 90 pitches when the regular season starts. He allowed one run and three hits, plus a hit, and was pleased with his performance.

“I just wanted to get to my pitch limit and see how hitters were reacting to my pitches,” Ohtani said after his start. “That was my main focus.”

The 27-year-old Ohtani said he threw his entire repertoire except for his split-finger fastball, because in his opinion it’s a pitch he doesn’t need to work on as much in Spring Training because he’s always mastered it easily. Instead, he tried to work more with his slicer and his slider, while he also mixed in some high fastballs, two at-bat curveballs and a few ground changes.

“He just wanted to see how all the pitches felt,” catcher Max Stassi said. “He wanted to throw his four-seam fastball high. Throw your cutter and slider on both sides. He threw some curveballs opening turns. He wanted to see how everything was.”

Stassi watched Ohtani’s opening first-row and liked what the right-back showed. Ohtani showed enough speed and was able to fool several of the Royals hitters with his arsenal of slow delivery once he got them on two strikes.

“I think it’s where it was when last season ended,” Stassi continued. “He worked a lot this offseason. He is in a much better situation now. I think he better understands this whole pitching and hitting thing and what he needs to do to get there. He wants to increase his workload.”

Angels manager Joe Maddon was also impressed with Ohtani, but said he’s not ready to name him as his Opening Day starter all at once. But Ohtani could be back in the lineup as a designated hitter on Tuesday.

“It was really good,” Maddon said. “He looked great. Stassi even came up to me and said that he looked better than he did last year. I was really impressed. I think he looked fantastic and everything was working for him. His mechanics were fine and the fastball was fine.”

Stassi got a close look at how hard Ohtani worked over the winter, as the two spent time together at Driveline’s Arizona headquarters in early February. He got a few sessions from Ohtani at the time and now knows that he is better off physically than he was before he started last season.

Last year there were still concerns regarding injuries. Ohtani pitched just 1 2/3 innings in 2020 and struggled pitching that season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2018. But he showed last year that he can handle the responsibility of pitching and hitting, giving him more confidence heading into this campaign.

“Last year was really his first full season post-op,” Stassi recalled. “It was an experience, learning again to go out there and feel good and healthy. Toward the end he started attacking hitters in the zone more.”

As Stassi said, Ohtani finished the season flat out on the mound after experiencing control issues earlier in the year before turning around after the All-Star break. Ohtani had a 3.49 ERA with 35 walks in 67 innings in the first half of the season and a 2.84 ERA and nine walks in 63.1 innings in the second half.

Ohtani, however, recalled that he has had to change his routine this spring because Spring Training is shorter. But he said he hasn’t had a problem and believes he’ll be fully ready for Opening Day. He is expected to lead the ninth’s six-starter rotation and serve as designated hitter when he doesn’t have to pitch.

“It’s a shorter Spring Training so I have to have less rest than usual between my starts,” Ohtani explained. “I just need to adjust my practice work a little bit between games.”

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Ohtani (5K) threw fire in her spring debut