TEMPE, Ariz. — Shohei Ohtani‘s spring training pitching debut is one that he’ll file under “learning curve.”
Ohtani took the mound with plenty of hype and a “B” lineup in the field behind him in Saturday’s game between the Los Angeles Angels and Milwaukee Brewers. He labored with his control and threw 31 pitches — only 17 of them strikes — before departing with one out in the top of the second inning and the score tied 2-2.
Ohtani, who became a star in his early 20s with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters and earned the moniker of “Japan’s Babe Ruth,” is trying to achieve a rarity with the Angels this season as a starting pitcher and part-time designated hitter. He’s been followed by waves of Japanese media this spring, and a larger-than-usual crowd was in the stands at Tempe Diablo Stadium for his Cactus League debut.
After Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero threw out the ceremonial first pitch, Ohtani took the mound with Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky” playing over the stadium loudspeakers. Brewers shortstop and leadoff man Jonathan Villar worked the count to 3-1 before driving a double over Eric Young Jr.’s head in straightaway center field, and Milwaukee took a 1-0 lead on a walk, a wild pitch and a throwing error by Angels catcher Martin Maldonado.
The Angels came back to take a 2-1 lead before Keon Broxton lined a home run to left field off Ohtani to tie the game 2-2. After Nick Franklin flied out to left field, Angels manager Mike Scioscia went to the mound and lifted Ohtani. The crowd gave Ohtani a warm ovation as he walked off the mound, and he exchanged high-fives with several teammates in a crowded Angels dugout.
Ohtani appeared over-amped in his debut and struggled with fastball command while burying several breaking pitches in the dirt. His most impressive sequence came against Brett Phillips in the first inning, when he elicited “oohs” from the crowd with a slow curveball, then caught Phillips looking at a fastball for strike three.
Ohtani was clearly the main attraction for the Angels, who held out most of their top position players against Milwaukee. Maldonado and first baseman Luis Valbuena were the only regulars in the starting lineup Saturday.
The Angels have yet to indicate when Ohtani will make his first appearance as a designated hitter in Arizona, but they’ve said he will not be in the lineup as a DH the day before or after he pitches. So the earliest he can DH is Monday against the San Diego Padres at the Peoria Sports Complex.
Ohtani gave the Angels a tantalizing preview Thursday, when he launched several home runs over the scoreboard and the center field batting eye at Tempe Diablo. He hit .286 with a .500 slugging percentage over five seasons with Nippon.
Tim Locastro breaks record for most stolen bases to start career without getting caught
PHOENIX — Arizona manager Torey Lovullo has often said that Tim Locastro is the fastest man in the majors. You don’t have to take his word for it: The video game MLB The Show agrees.
“He’s got a 99 rating,” Lovullo said, grinning.
Locastro’s theft of second in the sixth inning was the 28th straight stolen base to start his career without getting caught. That broke the mark set by Hall of Famer Tim Raines, who stole 27 in a row from 1979-81. Records have been kept since 1951. The Baseball Hall of Fame requested Locastro’s cleats, which he had specially painted for the occasion.
Locastro, 28, grew up in upstate New York, close to the Hall of Fame’s location in Cooperstown.
“Having my cleats there, it’s unfathomable,” Locastro said.
Locastro was perhaps destined to break the record. He was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2013 and his first baserunning coach that year was none other than Raines.
He flashed more than speed on Saturday night, tallying four singles and two runs from the leadoff spot. Locastro’s playing time in center field has increased after Ketel Marte recently went on the injured list with a strained hamstring.
“He’s not just fast,” Lovullo said. “He’s a good baseball player who’s learned how to hit.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Boston Red Sox OF J.D. Martinez goes on COVID-19 injured list; Michael Chavis recalled
Martinez underwent coronavirus testing, and the team is awaiting the results.
Going on the COVID-19 IL does not require a positive test. If he tests negative twice, Martinez can return to the lineup for the series finale Sunday at Baltimore.
“We feel pretty confident that he’ll be able to be with us [Sunday], but obviously we have to wait,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said.
Martinez has been of the hottest hitters in MLB to start the season. He is batting .433 (13 for 30) with seven doubles, two home runs and 12 RBIs.
Martinez entered the day leading all major league players in extra-base hits with nine. He has also recorded at least one extra-base hit in all of his team’s first seven games of the year, making him one of five players in MLB history to accomplish that feat.
Cora fully understands the league’s precaution with Martinez.
“I’ll tell you my story in spring training,” Cora said. “We got this app that they asked you how you feel, right? I had allergies in spring training, and you got to be honest, you know, as far as like, ‘OK, so I felt this.’ And as soon as I sent it, I got a text, a phone call and a lot of people panic and in less than five minutes. So I had to go to JetBlue Park, do the rapid test, stay in my office until they gave me the green light and that was it.
“But it’s understandable, right? We know what we are fighting against. But we don’t know how it moves or when we can get it, where, but I understand the protocols. I’m OK with it. So if we don’t have J.D. for one day, so be it, you know? Somebody has to step up and do the job tonight.”
Teams can carry up to five players on a taxi squad on the road in case of a coronavirus outbreak.
The Red Sox recalled Michael Chavis from the alternate training site to fill the opening on the 26-man roster. Chavis hit .250 (15 for 60) with three doubles, six home runs, 11 RBIs and a .892 OPS over 25 preseason games this spring.
Jacob deGrom’s 14 K’s unable to overcome Trevor Rogers’ gem as Marlins blank Mets
NEW YORK — Jacob deGrom matched a career best with 14 strikeouts over eight innings, but as is often the case for the two-time Cy Young Award winner, he failed to get any run support as the Miami Marlins blanked the New York Mets 3-0 Saturday.
DeGrom (0-1) looked unhittable early — until Jazz Chisholm Jr. barreled a 100.4 mph, 0-2 fastball thrown above the strike zone in the second inning. The left-handed hitter’s drive reached the second deck in right field and was estimated at 402 feet.
It was the first 0-2 homer deGrom has allowed in the majors.
“[Chisholm] sold out for it,” deGrom said. “Probably should have done a better job recognizing he was going to try to get to that fastball.”
The homer was all Miami could muster against deGrom. The right-hander reached 14 strikeouts for the fourth time — including three times against the Marlins. He allowed a run, five hits, walked none and threw 76 of his 95 pitches for strikes.
Plagued throughout his career by insufficient run support, deGrom was tagged with another disappointing loss. He even accounted for one of New York’s three hits.
“Unfortunately, we’ve been through this before,” center fielder Brandon Nimmo said. “It’s never easy.”
Marlins left-hander Trevor Rogers didn’t make things easy for the Mets, fanning 10 in six to beat deGrom for the second time in nine major league starts. The 23-year-old got his first big-league win against deGrom in a 5-3 victory last Aug. 31.
“Best in baseball, Jacob deGrom is,” Rogers said. “You really have to bring your best and then some. To see me and our whole team go out and compete with the best, it just shows you how good we are.”
A 2017 first-round draft pick, Rogers cruised against New York as he scattered three hits and two walks, retiring 11 straight in one stretch.
Rogers mixed a fastball averaging 95 mph with a slider and changeup, inducing 19 swing-and-misses among his 82 pitches. He ended his outing with strikeouts of Michael Conforto and Pete Alonso, stranding two runners to preserve a 1-0 lead.
Dylan Floro followed with a perfect seventh; Richard Bleier was helped by shortstop Miguel Rojas‘ diving catch to rob pinch-hitter Kevin Pillar during a 1-2-3 eighth and Yimi Garcia completed the three-hitter for his first save, who was called on instead of struggling closer Anthony Bass.
New York closer Edwin Diaz, meanwhile, relieved deGrom and struggled. Starling Marte hit a leadoff double and scored the next at-bat on a single by Jesus Aguilar. Rojas added an RBI single before Diaz was pulled and booed off the mound.
Mets fans also jeered Conforto, who struck out three times to extend a slump to start what could be his final season in New York. The right fielder is set to become a free agent in the fall.
The 32-year-old deGrom looked better than ever in his eighth major league season. Not only is he averaging 99 mph with his fastball — up from 94 mph when he debuted in 2014 — he’s throwing it with more “rise,” too. The pitch is dropping one inch less on average than it did in 2020, making it look to batters like it’s moving up in the strike zone as it approaches.
DeGrom punched out at least 10 hitters for the 47th time, passing Dwight Gooden for second-most in Mets history, trailing only Tom Seaver’s 60.
New York starters have turned in four quality starts in the team’s first five games but sit at 2-3 on the season.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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