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