George Springer homers twice in return to Astros’ lineup

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George Springer was held out of the Astros’ lineup on Thursday and Friday after tweaking his hip flexor when he was picked off at first base by Angels starter Jered Weaver in the top of the ninth inning Wednesday night in Anaheim. He returned to action on Saturday and appeared refreshed, homering twice and driving in five total runs as Houston routed the host Mariners 9-4 at Seattle’s Safeco Field.

Check out both blasts here, courtesy of MLB.com:

Springer got off to a sluggish start following his April 16 promotion to the major leagues, but the talented 24-year-old outfielder now has a .963 OPS with six home runs and 16 RBI in 19 games this month.

Springer, a first-round pick in the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft, was a .319/.431/.630 hitter with 21 home runs in 75 games at Triple-A Oklahoma City. Baseball America rated him a Top 20 prospect this past winter.

Starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani will pinch-hit and pinch-run for the Angels in 2018

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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.