Angels cautious with Ohtani after bad spring training outings

Shohei Ohtani hasn’t had the easiest time adjusting to North America. The Japanese star struggled throughout spring training, which is likely why he won’t make his MLB regular-season pitching debut for the Los Angeles Angels until Sunday, in the fourth and final game of a series against the Oakland Athletics.

Ohtani’s spring was bad enough to make people wonder if he would even start the season with the Angels instead of one of their minor league affiliates. He allowed nine hits and nine runs in fewer than three innings during his two main preseason starts, and he didn’t fare much better in other appearances against minor league batters, struggling to command his fastball. Placing Ohtani fourth in the rotation to start the year will give him more time to settle in and work on his mechanics, and he may see a debut at the plate before Sunday.

One of the biggest things that made Ohtani such a coveted commodity in the off-season is his two-way ability, and Los Angeles is expected to use Ohtani as a designated hitter. But Ohtani’s spring training didn’t inspire confidence in that side of his game either, hitting 4-for-32 with three walks and striking out 10 times.

Ohtani was a notoriously slow starter in Japan as well, piling up the home runs and pitching victories late in the season. Angels manager Mike Scioscia appears ready to exercise patience in evaluating the 23-year-old, slotting him into the rotation behind Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs, and Matt Shoemaker, but the possibility of a demotion to the minor leagues still looms if Ohtani’s struggles carry over from the preseason.

The hype surrounding Ohtani was astronomical, and he was never going to fulfill that promise before the season even started. Any spring training issues will be easy to forget once Ohtani hits his first MLB home run or earns his first major league win, but until then it might be a challenge to reconcile the hype with his performance.