Jug­gling Oh­tani:

Go behind the scenes to see how the An­gels are man­ag­ing the twoway star’s pitch­ing and hit­ting needs in be­tween starts.

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - INSIDE - Jay Paris

ANA­HEIM, Calif. – The An­gels pitch­ers mi­grated to left field for long toss af­ter an off day. Al­though on this day, their most cel­e­brated hurler wasn’t among them.

Pitch­ing coach Charles Nagy was sprint­ing to­ward the club­house. But in­stead of seek­ing rookie starter Sho­hei Oh­tani, he sought his shades.

Oh­tani? He was prep­ping for a bat­ting prac­tice ses­sion with Mike Trout and Al­bert Pu­jols.

A typ­i­cal week for the An­gels and Oh­tani, their Ja­panese twoway dy­namo, is a roller coaster.

On May 1, left-handed-hit­ting Oh­tani was the des­ig­nated hit­ter. The fol­low­ing day, he threw a bullpen ses­sion be­fore he was DH. The next day he was the DH but didn’t throw. The fol­low­ing day he was throw­ing and hit­ting. Then no hit­ting the day be­fore a May 6 start against the Mariners.

The An­gels are weav­ing all that to­gether, with many of the decisions land­ing with Nagy.

“It’s a dif­fer­ent chal­lenge with him,” Nagy says. “But he has his chal­lenges. It’s a new league; it’s a new ev­ery­thing for him. So we just kind of help him out a bit and pretty much let him adapt as much as pos­si­ble by just try­ing to talk to him and work around his sched­ule.

“He comes out when his time per­mits and we make sure we are avail­able, that we are here. It’s not crazy times or any­thing like that. He’s pitch­ing once a week now and he throws a lit­tle on the side twice a week.”

Oh­tani was front-and-cen­ter in the sea­son’s first month. He hit four home runs and went 2-1 as a right-han­der on the mound while dis­play­ing an ar­ray of pitches that left bat­ters bum­bling.

Af­ter his May 6 start, he was 3-1 with a 4.10 ERA and 32 strike­outs in 261⁄ in­nings.

Oh­tani also took a per­fect game into the sev­enth in­ning against the Ath­let­ics on April 8, and is this the same guy who scuf­fled in spring train­ing?

Even though the An­gels paid a $20 million post­ing fee and $2.3 million sign­ing bonus for Oh­tani, few pre­dicted he would shine when he left Ari­zona. He was bat­ted around as a pitcher and not pitched around as a hit­ter.

Nagy, who won 129 games in the ma­jor leagues be­tween 1990 and 2003, had no sec­ond thoughts. He re­called Oh­tani’s first in­ning of a spring game against the Rock­ies in which he was hit hard.

“A cou­ple of guys got on, and then it was ‘boom,’ he was that elec­tric,” Nagy said. “So I knew pitch­ing-wise we would be OK af­ter that.”

But fold­ing Oh­tani, 23, into the ro­ta­tion came with quirks. In Japan, a five-man ro­ta­tion, which is com­mon­place in the ma­jors, isn’t the norm.

“Sho­hei’s his­tory says he has pitched some­times on five, six days’ rest, some­times longer, in Japan,” man­ager Mike Scios­cia said. “We hope that we come to a point this sea­son that if we have a six-man ro­ta­tion that he will be able to pitch on the sixth day in­stead of the sev­enth day.”

Nagy is the man jug­gling plans and pitch­ers.

“It’s just about keep­ing the guys in­formed,” Nagy said. “The other four or five guys we have in the ro­ta­tion we have to make sure they are on sched­ule and they know when they are pitch­ing and what they need to do to get ready for those starts.

“We talked to (the starters) be­fore the sea­son and spring train­ing. Flex­i­bil­ity was the main word that was thrown around, and th­ese guys all bought into it out of the gate.

“They want to win and they want us to suc­ceed as a team. They know hav­ing Oh­tani is go­ing to help us do that, so they are go­ing to be flex­i­ble.”

Starter Nick Tro­peano said Oh­tani’s ar­rival out­weighs any in­con­ve­nience.

“When you have a tal­ent like Oh­tani, you are not go­ing to pass that up,” Tro­peano says. “We’ll make an ad­just­ment and get an ex­tra day off in be­tween starts to make that hap­pen.”

Scios­cia says the way Nagy uses base­ball’s first two-way player since Babe Ruth is im­pres­sive.

“He’s com­ing up with a lit­tle dif­fer­ent for­mat of try­ing to get six guys into our ro­ta­tion which will be at full steam (soon) and then ad­just­ing to some of the in­juries and the things we have had to do,” Scios­cia says. “It is just the job de­scrip­tion of a ma­jor league pitch­ing coach, and Char­lie ex­cels at that.”

But can Oh­tani di­vide time at the plate while also aim­ing for one? He did it well enough to be named April’s Amer­i­can League rookie of the month. Oh­tani was the third player in MLB his­tory to earn two wins pitch­ing and hit three homes in his team’s first 10 games of the sea­son. (He’s the first to do so since the Washington Sen­a­tors’ Jim Shaw in 1919.)

“I don’t see why he can’t do it and hope­fully he can,” Nagy said of the hit­ting and pitch­ing combo. “But it’s a long sea­son so we’ll see what toll it takes on him, and as time goes on we will see how he fares.”

Oh­tani is ap­pre­cia­tive of Nagy.

“He has re­ally good eyes and he has been watch­ing me,” Oh­tani says through an in­ter­preter. “He has been giv­ing me ad­vice and has been a huge help to me.”

Nagy stud­ies how hit­ters at­tack Oh­tani. They cheat on some pitches, guess on oth­ers and con­tin­u­ally search for a flaw not yet de­ci­phered.

“He’s go­ing to have to make ad­just­ments, but he is a stu­dent of the game,” Nagy says. “He knows what he can and can’t do and what he needs to do. And as we go down the road and he has to make some ad­just­ments, he will.”

The pop­u­lar Oh­tani is fit­ting in. He usu­ally hangs with the pitch­ers, be­cause some­times he is one.

“They all sit to­gether dur­ing the games in the dugout, but ob­vi­ously he is a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent be­cause he may be hit­ting that day,” Nagy says. “If he has ques­tions, he knows where to go to.”

Oh­tani com­pre­hends English enough to get a re­ply.

“It’s been OK so far,” Nagy says. “We have the trans­la­tor, but Sho­hei also un­der­stands a lit­tle bit more English than I un­der­stand Ja­panese. He un­der­stands what we are do­ing when we talk about things.”

De­spite mim­ick­ing Babe Ruth by pitch­ing and hit­ting, Oh­tani is just one of the guys.

“He gets along with ev­ery­body,” Nagy says. “He talks to ev­ery­body. He’s been a great team­mate and he’s a great tal­ent to be around. I’m ex­cited to watch that up close.”

SEAN M. HAF­FEY/GETTY IMAGES

Pitch­ing coach Charles Nagy, right in fore­ground, bal­ances all of the starters’ work­loads and sched­ules so Sho­hei Oh­tani, cen­ter, gets a start each week be­tween DH roles.

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