Given that Mariano Rivera indicated he had already made a decision about his status for 2013 going into the spring, most assumed 2012 would be his last year. He wasn’t willing to reveal anything publically at the time, but speculation was that he’d announce his retirement in July.
We know that won’t happen now, as Rivera has confirmed he’ll return in 2013 following his season-ending knee injury. The surprise, though, is that it appears he intended to pitch next year all along:
I was leaning toward coming back. I was feeling strong on that. It’s hard. I was weighing how I feel, the traveling, the games, and it’s the same. The traveling, I hate it; the playing, I love it. I was torn between that.
It is pretty interesting the way he puts it, given that he termed it this spring as though his decision was made. Still, it sounds as though we were going to get mo’ Mo all along.
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.