Originally Published: February 13, 2018 7:50 p.m.
TEMPE — Shohei Ohtani came onto the field with a bat in his hand after taking some swings in the cage, on his way to throw some long toss with his full-time interpreter.
That was after the two-way standout from Japan had already taken a physical and unloaded some gear into his locker in the Los Angeles Angels clubhouse.
While Ohtani had already been working out at the team’s Arizona complex for a week, Tuesday was the reporting day for Angels pitchers and catchers. The main attraction was Ohtani, who is already busy in his first major league spring training.
“Shohei is going to have a little longer day than most of our pitchers,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “But it shouldn’t be anything that he hasn’t done before, and he’ll be ready to go.”
The 23-year-old Ohtani may be used to such a routine after five seasons playing professionally in Japan, but things are already much different for the Angels at spring training.
Scioscia conducted his camp-opening media availability by speaking into a microphone alongside another interpreter recently hired by the team as reporters — including about 70 from Japan — sat in several rows of two sections of stands down the right field line at Diablo Stadium.
That crowd is expected to be much larger Wednesday, when Ohtani is scheduled to talk after the team’s first official workout.
Just moments after Scioscia was asked a question about Ohtani’s physical, the player entered the field from a gate in the right-field corner, not far from where Scioscia stood.
“I guess his physical’s OK. He’s here,” Scioscia said after calling out to Ohtani and briefly greeting his new starting pitcher — and hitter too.
The Angels knew Ohtani was recovering from a sprained elbow before they agreed to a contract with the two-way player two months ago. He missed much of last season in Japan with an ankle injury.
“We don’t anticipate any issues,” Scioscia said. “He’s been throwing and hitting, and he’s in great shape.”
Scioscia said he had only seen video of Ohtani’s workouts, but also got reports from staff members about how the pitcher-hitter was doing.
Some of his new teammates who were also in camp early, and have been on the field with him, are impressed.
“Seeing him getting acclimated, it’s been great. Just talking, hanging out, getting to know each other,” starting pitcher Matt Shoemaker said. “He’s phenomenal. You see him throw a bullpen, you know how hard he can throw, and see his effortless swing and what the ball does off his bat is crazy. Yeah, it’s exciting.”
Tyler Skaggs said two of his bullpen sessions have been at the same time as Ohtani’s.
“I haven’t really got to see it with my own eyes yet,” Skaggs said of Ohtani’s pitching. “I saw him play catch, and I saw him hitting batting practice, which was impressive.”
Long before Ohtani was in the clubhouse or on the field Tuesday, dozens of Japanese reporters waited near the entrance to the players’ parking lot waiting for the pitcher to arrive.
After his physical at a different location, like for all players, Ohtani got to the clubhouse about 30 minutes before the end of a two-hour block open to the media. He unpacked Angels shirts, caps and other gear from two boxes on the floor into his locker next to pitcher Jose Alvarez.
While not getting overly specific about the team’s plans, Scioscia said Ohtani will be available to hit in between starts — and even on days he’s starting on the mound in National League parks.
“He’s going to get probably most looks as a pitcher,” Scioscia said. “He’s probably going to influence our team more as a pitcher, but that’s not to say he’s not going to have a chance to be a difference-maker on the offensive end too.”
Asked if he knew any Japanese, Scioscia said he’s sure he’ll pick some up but that “a lot of baseball’s universal.”
Catcher Martin Maldonado, excited about what he’s seen on video before catching for Ohtani, knows at least one important phrase — “Ogenkidesuka,” or “How are you?”
One obvious answer for Ohtani will be “busy” with camp kicking into gear.
“You can’t miss any steps. He’s definitely going to have to go through all the fundamentals we do as a pitchers. He’s going to have to throw his quality bullpens to prep himself for getting into games in spring training,” Scioscia said. “And also be able to run the bases and hit from the offensive end.”