One start. Five innings.
That’s how long Kelvim Escobar’s return to the rotation lasted after he
missed 1 1/3 seasons due to shoulder problems. Since the struggled to
bounce back following an encouraging first start Saturday against the
Tigers, the Angels announced that he would be unavailable for the rest
of this week and would transition to the bullpen next week.
“He felt he didn’t have the stamina to go out there and throw the 90 pitches and recover,” manager Mike Scioscia told The Associated Press. “So he’s going to pitch out of the ‘pen for that reason. He feels great up to a certain pitch count.”
Of course, this is nothing new for Escobar, a former Toronto closer
who will be pitching in relief for the first time since 2005. He has
some of the game’s very best stuff, but he’s never been a dominant
force, mostly because injuries have held him back. He’s thrown 200
innings just once during a career that began in 1997. It seemed as
though he really learned how to pitch upon arriving in Anaheim, but
this marks the third time in six seasons with the Angels that he’s
missed a big chunk of time with an arm problem.
In the end, this might actually work out for the Angels. It’s not
like they could really count on Escobar to stay healthy anyway, and now
there’s nothing at all stopping them from going out and getting the
starter they’ve obviously needed since the offseason. If things break
right, then Escobar could be the setup man that Jose Arredondo was
supposed to be this year. He’s probably not going to be available on
back-to-back days anytime soon and odds are that he’ll be good for at
least one more DL stint, but even when his arm seems to be hanging by a
thread, he’s capable of getting tons of swings and misses.
The Angels’ bench is looking woefully thin this winter — so thin, in fact, that manager Mike Scioscia says he’s considering utilizing starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani as a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner on the days he’s not scheduled to pitch.
I’ve never had a pitcher pinch-run,” Scioscia told reporters Saturday. “There’s more bad than good that can come out of it. But Shohei is not just a pitcher. He’s a guy that has the ability to do some of the things coming off the bench, whether it’s pinch-hit or pinch-run, and we’re definitely going to tap into that if it’s necessary, because we feel we’re not putting him at risk. It’s something he’s able to do.
Granted, spring training allows for a certain amount of experimentation before managers and players decide what works best for them, so this may not be the strategy the Angels employ for the entire season. In addition to coming off the bench between starts, Ohtani is also expected to see 2-3 days at DH every week, forcing Albert Pujols to shift over to first base to accommodate the new two-way star.
Ohtani’s hitting prowess has already been well-documented — he has a lifetime .286/.358/.500 batting line from NPB and crushed a batting practice home run during his initial workouts with the team this week — but his skills on the basepaths have received less attention so far. MLB Pipeline describes the 23-year-old phenom as a “well-above average runner” whose speed has yet to manifest stolen bases: he’s nabbed just 13 bases in 17 chances over the last five years. That’s a number Scioscia hopes to see increased this season, though he doesn’t want his ace pitcher making any head-first slides on the basepaths to do so.
To be sure, it’s an unorthodox role for any young player to step into, but if anyone can pull it off, Ohtani can.