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Ohtani: Give Up Pitching, Focus on Hitting

August 5th, 2018 · No Comments · Angels, Baseball

It was when Shohei Ohtani hit two home runs in a game at Cleveland two days ago that it became clear to me.

The rookie from Japan should stick to hitting.

His dream of becoming the first player since Babe Ruth, nearly a century ago, to be a regular Major League starting pitcher as well as hitter … it’s time to let that go, no matter how bitter it might be for him, as well as for his team, the Los Angeles Angels, who bent over backward to help him with his ambitious plan.

For a couple of months, it mostly worked. There’s that.

Ohtani focused on pitching the day he went to the mound, as well as the day before and the day after. He made nine starts as a pitcher, to wide acclaim, and he was impressive: an ERA of 3.10 and 4-1 record in 49.1 innings, with 61 strikeouts and a tidy 1.13 “whip”.

The rest of the time, he was the club’s designated hitter. And he was not your typical limp-bat, a-swing-and-a-prayer pitcher-as-hitter.

And then his right elbow, in his pitching arm, forced him out of the rotation after an appearance in early June. It was described as a Grade 2 sprain, an injury which usually ends in “Tommy John” reconstructive surgery.

Ohtani and the club hope that continued therapy can allow him to avoid elbow surgery, and the year-plus of rehabilitation that goes with it, and get him back in the rotation this season.

That is probably not realistic, especially when he has an option.

That option is hitting. Only.

Ohtani throws with his right hand but he hits left-handed, and his wonky elbow does not keep him from taking hard hacks while batting — the left arm being mostly responsible for providing the power in his swing.

In Cleveland, facing a pretty solid pitcher, in Mike Clevenger, Ohtani drove a ball into the left-center field seats, then came back in his next at-bat with a homer into the right-center field seats.

He ended the game with four hits in five trips to the plate.

If we look at Ohtani’s hitting totals this season … not particularly impressive. Eleven home runs, 28 RBI, 29 runs, 13 doubles and an on-base percentage of .337.

He is on pace for 16 homers, 40 RBI and 42 runs in 270 at-bats. Also not impressive.

But it we project those numbers into a season where he starts most of the time as the DH, we should double his current projections — to 540 at-bats with 32 home runs, 80 RBI, 84 runs and 38 doubles.

That is a serious hitter. Ohtani would instantly become the second-best hitter on the Angels’ roster, after Mike Trout.

This is not just trying to wring the utmost out of his hitting … it also takes into account the risk incurred by attempting to return to pitching.

Recent history suggests that non-invasive therapy does not produce the hoped-for results. The Angels know that first-hand. Garrett Richards, their ace, attempted for nearly two years to avoid Tommy John — and finally gave in to it this summer after yet another breakdown.

If we are realistic and see T.J. surgery in Ohtani’s future … well, it could be up to 16 months from now before he would be ready to return to the mound, and he meanwhile would miss all of one season.

One full season as a potential 3-hole hitter, right behind Trout in the lineup.

And let’s be honest: Ohtani as a two-way player is a great story, and has led to lots of attention for him and the Angels, and in a lot of ways he already emulated Ruth with those nine starts on days he wasn’t hitting; but it also has made for an unusual season for the Angels, who tweaked their pitching time and again, early in the season, to fit in Ohtani, who also prefers pitching every six days, rather than the typical MLB five.

Allowing him to bat, but only as a DH or pinch-hitter, also forced Albert Pujols, 38, to pick up the first-baseman’s glove and return to playing defense, which is probably not the best way to get maximum return from a guy whose $250 million Angels contract has another three years to run.

But if Pujols knows the situation … he can prepare as best he can to be a mostly competent fielder while the Angels get Ohtani into the daily batting lineup.

The Angels need to be realistic about this, as they try to get Ohtani back to the mound.

They should be thinking, however, of Ohtani as a DH — and maybe do it before a complete breakdown of his right elbow, and watching the whole of a season go down the drain.




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