Los Angeles Angels baseball isn’t returning anytime soon, which might proof helpful to the starting rotation.
Following guidance from the CDC that the United States should avoid public gatherings of 50 people or more, it seems unlikely baseball will resume normal activities until at least mid-May. Even at that point, some are speculating a second Spring Training will be needed to stretch out the pitchers, which could add up to four weeks to the timeline. In short, Opening Day 2020 might not come until June, at the earliest.
What does this mean for the Angels fragile rotation? Well, it might be good news. Had the season started on time, beginning in ten days, Joe Maddon was ready to employ a rotation missing two of its key components in Shohei Ohtani (Tommy John) and Griffin Canning (elbow inflammation). The likes of Patrick Sandoval, Matt Andriese, Dillon Peters, Jaime Barria, and Jose Suarez were battling for the final two open rotation turns.
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As Major League Baseball advises against group workouts during the break, some teams, such as the Cardinals, are avoiding roster transactions until there is more clarity on the future. However, the Angels decided to make news on Sunday by optioning five players to the minor leagues, including Jaime Barria. The move provides a hint at the Angels thinking for the back of their rotation. Despite a strong start to the spring, Barria was probably always going to be one of the odd men out heading into the season.
Had the season started on time, my guess is the Angels would have turned a rotation of Andrew Heaney, Dylan Bundy, Julio Teheran, Patrick Sandoval, and Matt Andriese. They would have relied on off days early in the season to avoid using a fifth starter too frequently, but when Andriese did make his starts, I think he would have been openly competing with Sandoval to remain in the rotation whenever Ohtani, or possibly, Canning returned.
With the season unlikely to begin before June, it seems reasonable to expect that Ohtani could start the season as the Ace of the pitching staff. Billy Eppler expects the two-way star to continue his throwing program during the break. By June, the team should also have clarity on Griffin Canning‘s elbow. The right-hander has been optimistic his diagnosis won’t transition into surgery.
The original plan was to give Ohtani days off before and after each of his starts, possibly standing him on the mound every Wednesday. I would imagine that plan would remain in place no matter when the season starts. However, as less innings are demanded, perhaps the Angels can employ Ohtani more rigorously within each start–once he gets ramped up, allowing him to pitch an extra inning in crucial situations, as an example.
What does the delayed start mean for the Angels rotation? A few things. One, it gives their best pitcher more time to heal. Just like in the playoffs, a higher percentage of innings going to the top of the rotation versus the back of the rotation is an advantage. Ohtani could figure into the entirety of the Angels season within the rotation rather than two thirds of it. Two, it creates depth for when new injuries inevitably occur. Rather than needing to rely on a group of pitchers perhaps best suited for AAA to fill in for spot starts, we could see someone like Andriese or Sandoval become the emergency starter.
The delay until June creates the possible for a starting five of Ohtani, Bundy, Teheran, Canning, Sandoval/Andriese to start the season, which is a marked improvement over the staff the Halos were ready to head to Houston with in March. Maximizing the percentage of starts made by pitchers like Ohtani could prove a life-saver to an Angels staff that needs all of the help they can get.
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