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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.

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Chicago White Sox manager Tony La Russa admits he didn’t know extra-inning rule



Chicago White Sox manager Tony La Russa is under the microscope again.

La Russa said he didn’t fully know the extra-inning rule that would have allowed him to avoid using closer Liam Hendriks as a baserunner in a 0-0 game against the Reds on Wednesday in Cincinnati.

Hendriks had double-switched into the game in the bottom of the ninth inning, taking the No. 5 spot in the batting order, which made the last out in the top of the frame. Per MLB rules, as extra innings begin, the spot in the order to make the last out in the previous inning becomes the baserunner at second base. However, if that spot is occupied by a pitcher, the team has the option to use the preceding player in the batting order as the runner. In this case, it would have been Jose Abreu.

“I didn’t know that,” La Russa said after the 1-0 loss. “We all thought Liam was going to be the runner. I wasn’t aware Abreu could have run. I thought it was the guy that made the last out or the spot in that order.”

Besides the obvious injury risk to a player who has run the bases once in his entire career, the choice to run Hendriks impacted the inning. While he was on third base with one out, Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart didn’t hesitate to throw to second base to nail Leury Garcia, who was trying to steal — despite the potential winning run at third. Barnhart knew Hendriks likely wasn’t going to go home on a double-steal attempt.

“[Garcia] can run,” La Russa said. “We wanted to be aggressive. They threw him out.”

Even in talking out the White Sox strategy, the team was concerned with Hendriks’ safety. La Russa said he was hoping for an easy sacrifice fly or another way for Hendriks to score that wasn’t stressful. It didn’t matter after Billy Hamilton struck out to end the inning.

“We were going to try and avoid any kind of contact at home plate,” La Russa said.

La Russa admitted he wasn’t aware of the rule until hearing it read by a reporter in the postgame Zoom session.

“I’m guessing you know the rules better,” he said. “Now I know.”

The White Sox named La Russa their manager in October.

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Joey Votto of Cincinnati Reds suffers broken left thumb after being hit by pitch



Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto suffered a broken left thumb in the team’s 1-0 victory against the visiting Chicago White Sox on Wednesday.

Votto is not expected to need surgery but could miss up to a month.

Kyle Farmer is among the options at first.

“We’ll figure it out,” manager David Bell said.

Votto was hit by a Dallas Keuchel pitch in the fourth inning. He remained in the game, but in the sixth was replaced at first base by Farmer.

“I knew I was in pain,” Votto said after the game, according to “I thought I was being a baby. I just wanted to stay in the game, but I didn’t think I could grip the bat and I was having a hard time putting my glove on. I could run and I was moving well, and I thought, ‘Just give it some time, it should shake at some point. Maybe it’s just one of those [where] your thumb gets jammed in a door or something like that and it just goes away.’ It broke, what are you going to do?”

Keuchel expressed regret.

“It’s a joy to pitch against him,” Keuchel said. “You never want that to happen. I wish him well.”

Votto is hitting .226 with five home runs and 17 RBIs.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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Longtime Baltimore Orioles pitching coach Ray Miller dies at 76



Longtime pitching coach Ray Miller, who served as manager of the Minnesota Twins and Baltimore Orioles during his career, died Tuesday at the age of 76, it was announced Wednesday.

“His legacy will forever be enshrined in our organization’s history, having guided some of the greatest Orioles pitchers,” the team said in a statement. “… We send our deepest condolences to his beloved family and his many fans throughout our great game.”

Miller served three stints as a coach with the Orioles, including two seasons as manager in 1998 and 1999, when he compiled a 157-167 record. He also served as manager of the Twins during parts of the 1985 and ’86 seasons, going 109-130.

The Orioles listed Jim Palmer, Mike Flanagan, Scott McGregor, Steve Stone and Mike Boddicker as just some of the pitchers Miller coached during his time with the team, which included the 1983 World Series title and the 1979 American League pennant.

He also served as pitching coach of the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1987 to 1996.

“Ray Miller was a beloved member of the Pirates organization for 10 seasons whose passion and dedicated played an instrumental role in the team’s three straight postseason appearances from 1990-92,” the Pirates said in a statement. “He was respected not only as a pitching coach by players in the Pirates organization, but also throughout the entire game of baseball.”

He was enshrined in the Orioles Hall of Fame in 2010.

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