When the Dodgers entered Philadelphia to open up a three-game set against the Phillies, the two teams were on wildly divergent paths. The Phillies had lost 19 of 24 games since the All-Star break while the Dodgers had won 23 of 26. In the first two games of the Phillies, they did exactly as they should — they dominated the Phillies with two consecutive shut-outs, 4-0 behind Zack Greinke and 5-0 behind Clayton Kershaw.
The Dodgers staked starter Ricky Nolasco to an early 2-0 lead in the series finale this afternoon, but a solo home run by Darin Ruf and an RBI ground out by Cody Asche left the game tied going into the seventh. Both bullpens held serve going into the bottom of the ninth, when the Dodgers called on Brandon League to bring them to extra innings.
Paco Rodriguez struck out Asche to lead off the inning before giving way to Brandon League. Casper Wells hit what appeared to be a routine ground out to Ramirez at shortstop, but Ramirez’s throw was short and first baseman Jerry Hairston couldn’t corral it. Catcher Carlos Ruiz punched a single to right field to push Wells to third base. Controversially, manager Don Mattingly opted to intentionally walk Jimmy Rollins to load the bases. Rather than let Michael Martinez hit, new Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg pinch-hit with Michael Young, who did not start due to an aching Achilles. On the fifth pitch of the at-bat, Young hit what appeared to be a dead double play ball, but Ramirez bobbled it as he preemptively positioned himself to make the throw to second, allowing Wells to score the winning run. For those of you counting at home, that was ninth-inning error number two Ramirez.
It is certainly not the way the Dodgers wanted to be leaving Philadelphia, but the good news is that they will have a great opportunity to continue expanding their lead in the NL West as they open a four-game set against the Marlins in Miami.
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.