Albert Pujols admitted over the weekend that he’s “hurting real bad” while playing through plantar fasciitis in his left foot and for now at least the Angels’ plan is to use him at designated hitter to lessen the wear and tear on the injury.
Pujols started his fifth straight game at DH last night, with Mark Trumbo at first base, and the two-time Gold Glover talked to Ben Platt of MLB.com about his status:
I’m able to play first base, too, if I wanted to. It just gets to a point sometimes during the game, by the fifth or sixth inning, it starts getting real sore. I think being the DH as of right now is the best thing to do to try to stay away from planting it as much. It’s nothing different than what I went through and what I have gone through in my career. It’s something that I know how to handle.
Pujols’ greatness has always come from his amazing hitting, of course, but his defense and baserunning were underrated parts of his game for a long time. Not only has he been a very good hitter rather than a great hitter since joining the Angels, the added value he once brought as a fielder and runner has all but disappeared.
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.