On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Angels opened their spring training camp in Arizona, which means Japanese two-way star Shohei Ohtani reported for his first workout with the organization. The media throng was as expected:
The 23-year-old Ohtani will get the chance to both pitch and hit with the Angels, and to help ease him into things, the club plans to use a six-man rotation this season. Manager Mike Scioscia confirmed it Tuesday.
"In talking with Billy Eppler and everyone who's dived into this, we all feel very comfortable with it," Scioscia said. "Let's get the six best guys we have and get after it. It will not only pay dividends for Shohei, but with the rest of our staff to hopefully keep them effective and strong through the whole season. That's going to be very important to our team this year. We're going to be flexible, but that looks like the way we're going to map things out."
Ohtani, like most pitchers in Japan, pitched once a week rather than once every five days with the Nippon Ham Fighters. This was his typical schedule the last few seasons:
- Sunday: Pitch
- Monday: Off-day
- Tuesday: DH
- Wednesday: DH
- Thursday: DH
- Friday: Off-day
- Saturday: Off-day
Jumping from a once-a-week schedule to a once-every-five-days schedule is not easy. Other Japanese pitchers who came over and immediately switched to a every five days schedule came down with arm problem. Yu Darvish had Tommy John surgery, Masahiro Tanaka had an elbow problem, so on and so forth.
Going to a six-man rotation will help lighten the load on Ohtani, and remember, this is a 23-year-old kid who has never made more than 24 starts or thrown more than 160 2/3 innings in a single season. He's not a veteran who's rattled off a string of 200-inning seasons in his career. For all intents and purposes, Ohtani is a prospect, and the Angels will have to manage his workload.
This is the six-man rotation the Angels are expected to use at the start of the season, if not necessarily in this order:
Richards (elbow, biceps), Ramirez (forearm), and Skaggs (elbow) have all missed time with arm injuries within the last two seasons -- Nick Tropeano and Andrew Heaney, two other rotation options, both had Tommy John surgery within the last two seasons as well -- so moving to a six-man rotation will benefit them as well. It's not just Ohtani. The extra rest between starts will help everyone.
Every pitcher is different, but generally speaking, pitchers perform better with an extra day of rest between starts. Here are the league average numbers:
- Regular rest: 4.50 ERA and 4.33 FIP
- Extra day of rest: 4.44 ERA and 4.30 FIP
Not a huge difference, but a difference nonetheless. Every little bit counts, right? And again, we're talking about several pitchers with a recent arm injury history ---- and keeping them all healthy is the team's top priority. The more starts Richards and Ohtani and everyone else makes, the better.
Of course, a six-man rotation means the Halos will have to use either a six-man bullpen or a three-man bench. And in this day and age, it's hard to think the Angels will go with a six-man bullpen. A three-man bench it is. The fact Ohtani can also DH (and play some outfield) will help cover for the short bench.
The Angels and Ohtani still need to figure out a schedule that allows him to DH between starts -- their biggest concern is fatigue, they don't want to overload him -- but for now, Ohtani will work in a six-man rotation, which will benefit every on the staff.