Shohei Ohtani skips start on mound, hits leadoff homer

TEMPE, Ariz. — The Angels’ clubhouse had been open for less than 30 minutes on Saturday when a team official asked the media to step outside.

Once the media gathered, the official announced that Shohei Ohtani would not make his scheduled start against the White Sox at Camelback Ranch. But, the official added: Ohtani is not injured, is still on track to start the Angels’ regular-season opener on April 7 against the Astros and that the decision would be further explained by manager Joe Maddon.

About an hour later Maddon did just that, reiterating that Ohtani, who still faced Chicago as a designated hitter and led off the game with a home run on the first pitch in the Halos’ 12-3 victory, was not hurt and simply wanted to alter his routine. Maddon said Ohtani will work out over the next two days and then make a Cactus League start on Thursday, his final tune-up before Opening Day.

“It’s just going to be a workout on his own terms, with what he thinks he needs to get ready,” Maddon said. “He’d prefer to do it this way and I’m 100 percent supportive of it. That’s really all it is.”

Ohtani said he made the decision after learning he would be the Opening Day starter, which he called a “huge honor.” He said he wanted the extra off-days rather than making multiple starts on four days’ rest.

“It shouldn’t be a problem,” Ohtani said. “I felt good in my last outing, and I still have a lot of days in between so I’m going to adjust by throwing live batting practice sessions or bullpen sessions.

“I feel very comfortable with how things are going right now, and how they’re letting me be responsible for my own workload.”

Maddon said he has learned to listen to Ohtani when the two-way star has something to say about his physical preparation, mindful that Ohtani is unique among Major Leaguers. He compared Ohtani to punters and placekickers in the NFL, “guys that do something different within a professional team.”

“There’s nobody on this whole roster who does what he does,” Maddon said. “There’s nobody in the entire industry that does what he does. The last time I did that, I played for Hazleton High School [Hazleton, Pa.]where I played shortstop one day and pitched the next.

“There’s no play book. There’s no set way of doing this. I really am going to listen to what he says. It kind of worked well last year. So, we’re going to continue to do that.”

Maddon said having Ohtani pitch on Thursday will put him on his normal six-day schedule before Opening Day.

“It’s what he’s most comfortable with,” said Maddon, adding that Ohtani likely will be on a 90-pitch limit in the season opener. “You have to understand. He’s really well thought out, and he has his own process and his own program of how to get ready to do things. And I’m not going to interfere with that.”

Ohtani received two pieces of good news this week. Not only was he named the Opening Day starter, but MLB and the MLBPA reportedly reached an agreement on — but have yet to officially announce — several rule changes, including the introduction of what is being dubbed as the “Shohei Ohtani rule,” which allows any pitcher who serves as the DH to stay in the lineup even after he’s lifted as the pitcher. That could mean up to 50 extra at-bats for Ohtani, who slashed .257/.372/.592 last season with 46 homers and 100 RBIs.

“I’ve heard rumors about it, but I wasn’t really sure it was going to be put in place,” Ohtani said. “Now that it is, I think it’s going to be huge for me, personally, and for the team, too.”

Pencil Fletcher in at shortstop
Maddon said David Fletcher is the “leading candidate” to be the Angels’ everyday shortstop. Fletcher, 27, played 142 games at second base last season, but Maddon likes the up-the-middle defense he’ll have with Fletcher at shortstop and Matt Duffy at second.

Fletcher was a Gold Glove finalist last season at second base. He had a .990 fielding percentage, was in the 95th percentile in Outs Above Average and tied for second in DRS (11).

“You’ve heard me say it before,” Maddon said. “I think he’s the best catching a ground ball in all of baseball, and with a very accurate arm. So, we’re going to try to take advantage of that.”

back in camp
Center fielder Mike Trout returned to camp after attending a funeral, but he was not in the lineup against the White Sox.

“I prefer, after all the flying, just to be really smart today and he agreed with that,” Maddon said. “So, he’ll come out and do some things, but we won’t push him at all.”

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