PEORIA, Ariz. — Shohei Ohtani displayed a blend of patience and aggressiveness in his designated hitter debut with the Los Angeles Angels. At the end of the day, he had a 1.000 on base percentage, his first Cactus League hit, and something small to build upon.
Two days after his first outing as a starter, Ohtani was in the starting lineup for the Angels in a road game against the San Diego Padres. He walked in his first two plate appearances before jumping on the first pitch from reliever Michael Mariot and hitting a hard ground RBI single up the middle in the top of the fifth inning. Manager Mike Scioscia called for a pinch runner, and Ohtani received a warm ovation from the sparse crowd at Peoria Sports Complex on his way back to the dugout.
“I was able to see a lot of pitches and that was really good,” Ohtani said. “I just want to keep it going. I’m seeing the ball pretty well right now. Hopefully, I can have better at-bats. I think this goes for almost every player, but my hitting is always ahead of my pitching at this point in the year. It’s just like any other year.”
The Angels are trying to devise a comfortable and workable routine as Ohtani pursues his goal of making an impact as a two-way player. His primary focus will be as a member of a six-man starting rotation, but he is also expected to contribute as a DH.
The atmosphere was considerably more low-key than in Ohtani’s pitching debut Saturday, when he struggled with his control over 1 1/3 innings in a 6-5 loss to Milwaukee. A crowd of 6,019 was on hand in Tempe for that game, and Ohtani had trouble keeping his delivery in sync while throwing 17 strikes and 14 balls.
Ohtani batted second in the order between center fielder Eric Young Jr. and shortstop David Fletcher on Monday. Scioscia, citing the unusually early start to spring training this year, has yet to play Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Justin Upton or any of Los Angeles’ other high-profile regulars.
Ohtani fell behind 0-2 against right-hander Jordan Lyles in his first at-bat, then laid off four straight pitches out of the strike zone for a walk. He walked again on five pitches against lefty Buddy Baumann before facing Mariot, a righty reliever with 44 career appearances in Philadelphia and Kansas City. Ohtani drove a fastball through the box to score Young and give the Angels a 4-1 lead before calling it a day.
“I was happy to get that first hit out of the way,” Ohtani said, “but I was also happy with my first two at-bats. I got to see a lot of pitches. And I got to see a righty and a lefty. I felt like I had three good at-bats, including the first two.
“One of the reasons I saw so many pitches my first two at-bats is that I just wanted to see the difference in the strike zones between Japan and the States. I felt like I accomplished that. Plus, there was a runner in scoring position so I just wanted to be aggressive.”
While the Angels have yet to outline a specific workload for Ohtani, his last healthy season in Japan could provide a bit of a roadmap. In 2016, Ohtani threw 140 innings and logged 323 at-bats as an outfielder for the Nippon Ham Fighters. Last year, his workload was curtailed by injuries and he made only five starts as a pitcher and hit .332 with a .942 OPS for the Fighters.
Infielder Neil Walker retires after 12 MLB seasons
Veteran infielder Neil Walker announced his retirement Tuesday after 12 major league seasons.
Born in Pittsburgh, he played his first seven seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates before playing for the New York Mets, Milwaukee Brewers, New York Yankees, Miami Marlins and Philadelphia Phillies over his final five seasons.
Walker, 35, made his announcement on Twitter, writing, “thank you to everyone that helped me in my journey to live out my childhood dream of being a Major Leaguer, I loved & cherished every day.”
Officially retired, thank you to everyone that helped me in my journey to live out my childhood dream of being a Major Leaguer, I loved & cherished every day. From Pittsburgh, NY Mets & Yankees, Milwaukee, Miami, and Philly, nothing but love to those Organizations, Cities & Fans! pic.twitter.com/mvl3cg9k80
— Neil Walker (@NeilWalker18) April 20, 2021
The Pirates selected Walker with the 11th-overall pick of the 2004 draft and he went on to hit 93 home runs with 418 RBIs while slashing .272/.338/.431 in 836 games. His best major league season came in 2014 when he hit .271 and set career bests with 23 home runs and 76 RBIs, earning a Silver Slugger award. His 23 home runs broke Bill Mazeroski’s franchise record for home runs in a season by a second baseman.
Walker played for the Phillies during the 2020 pandemic shortened season, appearing in 18 games.
Overall, Walker finishes his major league career with 149 home runs and 609 RBIs and a slash line of .267/.338/.426.
Mookie Betts out of Los Angeles Dodgers lineup after getting hit on forearm, but not expected to miss time
Roberts said X-rays on Betts’ arm were negative after the former MVP took a fastball from Seattle closer Rafael Montero off the inside of his right forearm in the ninth inning of Monday’s 4-3 Mariners victory. Betts remained in the game after getting hit.
Roberts said Betts was receiving treatment and that he was hoping to avoid using him in Tuesday’s game with the Dodgers having a day off on Wednesday before opening a four-game series with division rival San Diego on Thursday at Dodger Stadium.
“I was hoping that it would be something soft tissue, as opposed to you know the wrist or the elbow or something like that,” Roberts said. “I guess best case scenario. There was an exhale once he wanted to stay in there. So that’s part of it, the soreness, but I think that we dodged a bullet there.”
Betts is hitting .292 early in the season and already had one of the signature defensive moments of the season with his game-ending catch in the ninth inning last Saturday in a win over San Diego.
Chris Taylor started in center field for the Dodgers.
Scouts, opposing pitchers on why the Cubs can’t hit
“Mind-boggling.” “A mystery.” “It’s hard to figure.”
Those are some of the words scouts and opposing pitchers used when asked about a Chicago Cubs offense that sits dead last in the majors in many categories, including a .192 team batting average that’s among the all-time worst through 15 games.
What’s most confusing is that the most foundational part of being a major league hitter has the Cubs turned upside down: simply handling a fastball.
“It’s almost mind-boggling,” one AL Central scout said. “There’s too much talent on that whole damn Cubs team. No one can figure it out. I’ve talked to a bunch of guys [other scouts].”
There was a time when throwing the Cubs a fastball was a bad idea. From 2016 to 2018, the combination of Javy Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant hit .307 with a .559 slugging percentage against fastballs. But the numbers have steadily dropped since then, culminating in a .235 batting average and just a .419 slugging percentage over their past 75 games (the shortened 2020 season and first 15 games of this year).
As a team the Cubs have an MLB-worst .230 batting average and are slugging just .414 off fastballs in that time frame. Against fastballs of 95 mph or more, they’re hitting a paltry .178 since the start of 2020 and just .105 this season.
“It’s not the lack of bat speed,” one NL East scout said. “These guys all have awesome bat speed. It’s mental.”
While theories differed among scouts, the consensus explanation is Cubs hitters have been caught “in between.” Perhaps they’re worried about chasing pitches with a lot of spin — a recent problem as well — so they aren’t reacting to fastballs like they used to.
“They should be able to catch up to fastballs, and for some reason they are not,” an NL East scout who saw them recently said. “Are they using analytic tendencies too much? So, in a game they expect one thing but the opposition is doing something else?”
Normally 15 games isn’t enough to glean much of anything in baseball, but the Cubs are no longer getting the benefit of the doubt — not from opposing pitchers, scouts or even many fans. Not after years of disappointment since former team executive Theo Epstein famously declared their offense “broken” back in 2018. For all of the movement elsewhere in the franchise, five of the eight primary position players still remain from the Cubs’ World Series victory now a half-decade ago.
“They’re trying to change their philosophy, but with this core group, they had one philosophy and all these guys bought into it,” one scout opined. “It’s turned into a one-dimensional offense. There’s something to be said about contact and putting the ball in play.”
Due to that one dangerous dimension — the ability to hit the ball out of the park — the opposition has consistently pitched the Cubs out of the strike zone. Since 2016, they’ve seen the lowest proportion of strikes, just 47.9%, of any team in the National League. For a while, they took advantage of it, ranking fourth best in chase percentage in 2016 while leading the majors in walks.
Perhaps those hitters became a little overconfident or the league simply figured them out, but they began to chase.
The Cubs went from fourth to 19th to 25th and then 23rd in chase percentage over the span of four seasons.
“The perfect example is Javy Baez,” one scout said. “I remember when he got to the big leagues and he had no clue what the strike zone was. Then he got better. Then I saw him last year and it was like the old Baez is back.”
Baez is an extreme example, but the sentiment held true for the offense as a group.
“Throw them up and in and then down and away,” one opposing pitcher said. “That’s what you do with any hitter, but especially the Cubs.”
And that’s where the Cubs are unique compared to other teams: The majority of their hitters can be pitched to in the same manner because their strengths and weaknesses are very much alike, according to those in the game.
“They’re down-ball hitters,” an opposing pitcher said. “All of them. Just don’t throw a mistake down there. Even David Bote who’s relatively new likes it there.”
This year alone Bote, Baez and Bryant have golfed balls into the stands for home runs. In last year’s postseason, the Miami Marlins shut the Cubs down by straying away from that hot zone.
“Don’t let them extend their arms,” another opposing pitcher said. “Everyone but Rizzo is the same. You can jam them. All the righties and even Jason Heyward from the left side.”
Perhaps the up-and-in approach is the reason the Cubs have been hit by more pitches than any other team. Most hit-by-pitches with the lowest team batting average is a tough way to go about an offense.
“Teams are throwing more up in the zone, from the games I saw,” said a scout who saw their first six games this season. “Guys are overswinging. Trying to do too much. Everyone is trying to get the whole team out of slump so they look like they’re pressing.”
With Jacob deGrom and Brandon Woodruff on the docket later this week, things aren’t going to get easier anytime soon. And that’s before the trade rumors that will come with Baez, Bryant, Rizzo, Joc Pederson and others all set to enter free agency at the end of the season have really started heating up.
“It’s got to be in the back of their minds, they’re going to break up the team,” one scout said. “Everyone knows it’s totally going to be different next year.”
Those in the game do agree on one thing about this season’s lineup: The parts are better than the sum. One opposing pitcher summed it up with a comparison of the Cubs of 2016, and the Cubs of now:
“They don’t grind you out the way they used to. It’s just an easier lineup to pitch to.”
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