I don’t know that I get this weekend’s unpleasantness between the Tigers and Rays. If there is a backstory I don’t know about, fine, but all I saw was Fernando Rodney buzzing Miguel Cabrera. Which, sure, you don’t guys throwing up and in like that, but it’s not like he hit him or, based on the game situation and their histories, had any reason to hit him.
But Cabrera jawed at Rodney, Jim Leyland jawed after the game and then yesterday Rick Porcello hit Ben Zobrist. This left Joe Maddon in a reflective mood after yesterday’s game:
“I don’t debate, this guy is outstanding,” Maddon said of Cabrera. “He’s wonderful. I just wish he wouldn’t cry so much.”
And it kinda is about the crying, you’d have to think. If Cabrera just walks back to the dugout on Saturday rather than yell at Rodney, I bet Leyland doesn’t say anything after that game and Porcello doesn’t feel obligated to plunk Zobrist. But when your big star does that you get questions asked about you. And when you’re on the bubble like Porcello, you err on the side of abiding by all of baseball’s macho “we protect our own” code because when push comes to shove let no man say you’re not a team player.
In this case, no harm done. But it’s not hard to imagine Zobrist breaking his wrist on a hit-by-pitch. Or someone getting hurt in a brawl after any of it. And it’s just the stupidest thing in baseball.
Spring training is tough for players under the best of circumstances. Even in an age when players work out all year, getting back into the swing of baseball-at-full-speed is tough. Many players spend the bulk of February and March knocking off the rust and getting their timing back. Because of this — and because the games have no real stakes — it is not wise to take spring training statistics super seriously. Especially if the player in question is assured of a spot on the roster and is trying to avoid injury before the regular season arrives.
Spring training for Shohei Ohtani is doubly difficult. Not only does he have to knock the rust off from the offseason, but he (a) has to get used to a new country and language; (b) has to get to know all new teammates, coaches and, really, an entirely new baseball culture; and (c) do all of that while dealing with a media crush that hasn’t been seen in baseball since Ichiro first arrived 17 years ago. In short, Ohtani is under massive pressure and has to make massive adjustments in a short time.
With that said, neither the Angels nor Ohtani can be all that pleased with how his spring training has gone. In two actual major league exhibition games he’s allowed eight runs in two and two-thirds innings. Seven of those came on Friday when he was shelled by the Rockies in an inning and a third. If you include B-games against minor leaguers, he has allowed 17 runs on 18 hits, four of which were homers, in four games. As a hitter he’s 2-for-20.
As Jeff Fletcher of the OC Register notes, Ohtani’s peripherals are not bad, as he has struck out a lot of guys and walked very few and the average on balls in play against him has been brutal, which is not super sustainable. Bad luck and some fat pitches at a time of the year when luck doesn’t really matter and the pitches, because of the rust, are likely to be fatter than normal.
As Fletcher also notes, Nolan Arenado, who faced Ohtani on Friday, said that his stuff looked good and that he’s going to be a good big league pitcher. Ohtani and Angels officials are all striking the right notes about bad luck and adjustments, saying that they’re not worried.
I imagine they’d be worrying even less if things had gone well this spring. Unless of course this is just a professional wrestling-style work aimed at getting more of us to watch his regular season debut, in which he’ll reveal that he was sandbaggin’ all along.