Scenes from Spring Training: We hate your favorite team

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I ate that thing pictured to the right last night. It’s a chilaquiles verde, and yeah it has a fried egg on top. Between that and the In-N-Out the other night I realize I’m going to die soon, but it’s worth it. I’ve lived a good life.

Dinner last night was with Keith Law of ESPN and Jonah Keri of Grantland. You can probably guess the reason for our dinner meeting: to plan this year’s strategy of hating your team and cultivating our overall biases in such a way as to be unfair in anything we write.  It’s a pretty good system, actually: Keith handles the prospects and postseason awards voting bias, Jonah handles the long form, in-depth team-specific bias and I handle the day-to-day bias.  Summit meetings are great.

But I did have some actually serious thoughts about bias yesterday. It came after I interviewed Orlando Hudson. He, like Torii Hunter the day before, was so nice and so accommodating, making what for me is kind of a nerve-inducing task — interviewing someone — much, much easier. When I left their presence each time I thought “man, what a great guy.”

But then I thought “now that I’ve had a nice personal interaction with them, if one of those guys did something bone-headed or worthy of criticism, I wonder if I’d go after him the way I go after someone else.”

This thought matched up with what I’ve heard and observed while in the presence of beat writers over the years. Most of them — even the best of them whose writing never seems to be infected with any kind of bias at all — talk openly about who is nice, who is surly, who makes time for interviews, who gives you good quotes, who tries to be a wise ass and all manner of thing that affects only how easy it is for the reporter to do his job.  How can those considerations not color the coverage? It has to, right? Even a little, even on an unconscious level?

All of which makes me question — as I think I do every year around this time — the nature of baseball writing and the desirability of access.  I like going into the clubhouse and sitting in the press box some because (a) it’s cool; and (b) I feel like I should at least have some presence and accountability given how often I rip people.

But I don’t think I’d be able to do the sort of writing I do while working as close to ballplayers as the beat guys do. And if I were running a newspaper’s sports section, I’d think hard about how deep into the clubhouse I’d want my columnists and opinion writers to be, lest they pull punches in the same way I, even after five minutes around them, worry that I might pull my punches regarding Torii Hunter or Orlando Hudson.

Anyway: off to Goodyear today to visit the Cleveland Indians and to take in the Angels-Indians game.

Starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani will pinch-hit and pinch-run for the Angels in 2018

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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.