Shohei Ohtani made his long-awaited return to the mound against competitive hitters on Tuesday, but the results were less than favorable for the Los Angeles Angels.
The last time Shohei Ohtani threw a pitch to a live hitter was September 2, 2018. After a full season on the mound lost to Tommy John surgery and an extended spring of workouts to get him back up to speed, the Los Angeles Angels were excited to see what their two-way star had in the tank for his first intrasquad start.
What they got was less than ideal.
Working three innings against his Angels teammates on Tuesday, Ohtani threw 51 pitches and worked on his entire arsenal. However, control issues plagued the right-hander as he walked eight hitters during the outing.
While throwing a minimum of 32 balls out of 51 pitches is less than ideal, the Angels nor Ohtani appear to be overly concerned by the control problems. Rather, the focus was placed on Ohtani getting in his work and coming out of the fray with a clean bill of health.
"“I’m glad to get through my pitches that I was supposed to pitch without any physical problems,” Ohtani said through his interpreter via the Associated Press."
Likewise, the Angels coaching staff took the good with the bad.
"“Obviously not as comfortable as you would hope, but at this point we’re not very concerned,” said pitching coach Mickey Calloway. “The results will come because of Shohei’s great processes and the way he goes about his everyday work.”"
Reading too much into any player’s first spring outing is a fool’s errand. This holds especially true for a player that until now has been held to no more than bullpens for the better part of the last two seasons. The fact that the control issues are no stranger to Ohtani during Spring Training (err…summer camp) was not lost on manager Joe Maddon either.
"“I’ve been told it looked like that a couple of years ago, and there’s nothing to be concerned or alarmed,” said Maddon."
Maddon of course is referring to Ohtani’s initial outings in spring training prior to his rookie season. In his two spring outings prior to the 2018 season, he walked just a pair of hitters but surrendered nine runs (eight earned), and three home runs over just 2.2 innings of work. However, he rebounded nicely during the regular season, going 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA, a 3.57 FIP, an 11.0 K/9, and a 3.8 BB/9 in 51.2 innings of work.
While the three-week summer camp doesn’t give the Angels or Ohtani a lot of time to work out the kinks, the right-hander will also be eased back into his pitching role by only appearing on the mound once per week. He’ll see the rest of his time in the line-up and field, likely four days a week with off days mixed in to keep him rested and allow for bullpens as needed.
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So while anxious eyes are looking to Shohei Ohtani to provide immediate results on the mound, the Angels are playing the long game. They are concerned with keeping him healthy and building him back up. At 26-years-old and under contractual control through the 2023 season, the Angels are more interested in getting the most out of Ohtani over the long-term rather than force him to perform in a shortened season.