PHOENIX – The full Shohei Ohtani experience will be on display when the Los Angeles Angels take the field on Opening Day.
The two-way star was picked to be the team’s starting pitcher for the April 7 opener at Angel Stadium against the Houston Astros. He’s also expected to be in the lineup as the designated hitter.
The reigning AL Most Valuable Player is coming off one of the most unique and productive seasons in the sport’s history.
“I spoke to him, and he’s very excited about it,” Angels manager Joe Maddon told reporters on Friday. “Typically, he handles things with very limited emotion. Of course, he’s happy about it. He’s earned the right to do that. We’re ready to rock and roll. It’s exciting for everybody. It’s the right thing to do, and I’m looking forward to a good result.”
Ohtani was 9-2 on the mound last season with a 3.18 ERA, striking out 156 batters over 130 1/3 innings. He also hit 46 homers, 26 doubles, an AL-best eight triples and stole 26 bases.
Ohtani is also expected to be the beneficiary of an MLB rule change. With the DH adopted in both leagues, pitchers who start games in the batting order can remain in the game as a DH after leaving the mound. A DH can also enter the game to pitch.
There aren’t many potentially high-impact players remaining in free agency. One expception is outfielder Michael Conforto.
The 2017 NL All-Star played seven seasons for the Mets before hitting the market this winter. The 29-year-old turned down New York’s one-year, $18.4 million qualifying offer which means any team who signs him has to give up at least one draft pick.
That’s one big reason the market appears fairly cool for the outfielder, even though Opening Day is in less than two weeks. Another reason is Conforto struggled some last year, hitting just .232 with 14 homers.
Still, he walks a lot, is younger than 30 years old, has 132 career homers and helped lead the Mets to the 2015 World Series. Now that there’s a universal DH, his so-so defense is less of a concern for National League teams.
MOLINA BACK ON THE FIELD
St. Louis Cardinals veteran Yadier Molina threw out a would-be basestealer on Friday in a game against the team’s minor leaguers.
The nine-time Gold Glove catcher missed the first week of what will likely be his final spring training to deal with a personal matter.
“It’s always fun to hear that ball whiz by your head and then watch a guy get thrown out,” said Miles Mikolas, who was pitching at the time.
The 39-year-old Molina – a 10-time All-Star – went 0 for 4 in the game played on a back field, with two flyouts and two groundouts.
Molina is targeting Sunday’s game at the New York Mets for his Grapefruit League debut, manager Oliver Marmol said.