It’s not too often a two-hit shutout gets overshadowed, but B.J. Upton did his best to secure the spotlight on Sunday, hitting three homers in the Rays’ 6-0 win over the Rangers.
James Shields went the distance for the Rays, notching his second shutout of the season. He has eight in his career, six of which have come the last two years.
Roy Oswalt started for Texas, but he left after two innings with muscle soreness near his elbow. Youngster Martin Perez took over and pitched five innings of two-run ball, with Upton’s second and third homers serving as the only damage.
Upton became the third Ray to have a three-homer game joining Jonny Gomes (2005) and Evan Longoria (2008). He had a chance to go for a fourth homer in the eighth, but he grounded out.
Upton was sitting on 10 homers on this date a month ago, but he has 11 since, all of which have come in Rays victories. The surge has likely given his value a boost as he prepares to enter free agency this winter. More importantly, it’s put the Rays in the position to at least claim a wild card spot in the AL. They’re 77-63 after winning two out of three from the Rangers at home. They entered the day two games behind both the Orioles and Yankees in the AL East.
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.