Shohei Ohtani has tough day, but remains optimistic

ANAHEIM, CALIF. -- SUNDAY, MAY 20, 2018: Angels starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani delivers a pitch in the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, Calif., on May 20, 2018. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Angels starter Shohei Ohtani pitches in 2018. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

For months during baseball’s coronavirus-induced shutdown, Angels star star Shohei Ohtani worked on his craft in near seclusion. He came to Angel Stadium to work out in small groups. When he was finally given clearance to pitch at full effort after about 18 months rehabbing his elbow, he threw live batting practice to teammates Tommy La Stella and David Fletcher. Manager Joe Maddon and general manager Billy Eppler were often on hand to watch Ohtani hopefully begin to reclaim his status as a two-way sensation.

But he will need time to get there. It was apparent Tuesday, when he failed to impress in an intrasquad game at Angel Stadium. Over three lackluster innings in a controlled environment, Ohtani walked seven batters and struck out one. He gave up one hit.

In spite of his struggles with command, Ohtani was not discouraged.

"Obviously it felt a lot different from my bullpens,” he said through an interpreter. “I wasn't familiar with pitching to my teammates [in a game], so that kind of threw me off a little bit. But I still got three or four more days to recover and get back out there.

"I was able to throw all my pitches today. So I'm going to try to build on that, going to try to get all my pitches again my next outing with a little better command.”

It was Ohtani’s first time pitching in a game-like scenario at Angel Stadium since June 2018, when he learned of a grade 2 sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. He received an injection of platelet-rich plasma and stem cells in hopes of avoiding going under the knife. The treatment only served to delay Tommy John surgery, which he had in October 2018. The operation limited him to designated hitting duties in 2019.

Ohtani, who was limited to facing three batters per inning in the Angels first intrasquad game of training camp, was not sharp. He struggled to establish his tempo. The problem was especially obvious when he threw his breaking pitches, which spun into the dirt on occasion. In one sequence in the first inning, La Stella walked and stole second base. La Stella then reached third on a wild pitch.

“There’s nothing to be concerned or alarmed with,” Maddon said. “He just did not have, from where I was standing, good rhythm with his delivery. A lot of balls in the dirt, pulling some pitches too. He’s healthy, he walked away well, he felt good. He just did not have one of his better outings.”

Short hops

Outfielder Brian Goodwin slugged a hanging slider from opening day starter Andrew Heaney for a two-run home run. Heaney was sharp otherwise. “He had really good jump on his fastball,” Maddon said. “It’s something that’s easy to notice with him when you stand behind the cage…He’s got this real quick release when the ball gets out of his hand.” … Griffin Canning and Dylan Bundy will pitch in a six-inning intrasquad game Wednesday afternoon.