Categoria: MLB

Angels See Familiar Story From José Quijada In World Baseball Classic

TEMPE, Ariz. — When manager Phil Nevin was watching the USA-Venezuela game on Saturday night, he had an idea what was going to happen.

Angels left-hander José Quijada struck out Kyle Tucker to help Venezuela escape the seventh inning with a lead, leaving the mound on an emotional high. Venezuela then brought Quijada back out for the eighth.

“We’ve seen Q pitch before, and you saw what he did afterward,” Nevin said Sunday, referring to Quijada’s on-field celebration after the strikeout. “Putting him back in the game the next inning was not the best idea.”

Quijada walked two and hit a batter in the eighth, loading the bases just before Trea Turner hit a game-changing grand slam against Silvino Bracho.

Nevin suggested that Quijada has trouble getting back to the same level after such an emotional moment. Last year, Nevin said Quijada tended to be less effective in less electric moments — like pitching in front of a small crowd in Oakland.

Obviously, a big league reliever needs to be reliable in any atmosphere, and Nevin said Quijada is getting there.

“I think he did a better job of it at the end of the season last year,” Nevin said. “Then early this spring a couple games he pitched here, the velocity was up. I like the way he went about his business and he threw well. … I think he’s going to be fine. He’s learning what he needs to do to prepare to get outs when he leaves the bullpen.”

Quijada, 27, had a 3.98 ERA for the Angels last season, throwing almost entirely fastballs. This season he is trying to add more changeups to his repertoire.

EJECTION FOLLOWUP A day after the first time Ryan Tepera was ever ejected from a spring training game, the Angels right-hander was eager to explain what happened.

Tepera had allowed a pair of runs in the fifth inning against the Texas Rangers, including a Marcus Semien two-run homer. He was walking off the mound when plate umpire Bill Miller approached him to check for foreign substances.

“Obviously frustrated with my outing a little bit,” Tepera said on Sunday. “Give up four hard hit balls and walking off the mound. I get checked. He checks my hand, like most umpires do. I take a couple steps to the dugout and he says, ‘Hey, come back here, son.’ So I’m like ‘What?’

“He proceeds to check my hand again. Check my glove. Like every inch of my glove. Every lace. He put his hand inside of it. And I said ‘Is this necessary?’ And he says, ‘I’m the head chief crew umpire, I can do whatever the (expletive) I want.’  I said ‘Oh, is that right?’ And then he says, ‘Let me see your hat.’ So he checks my hat.

“Then he says, ‘While you’re at it, let me check your belt.’ So I started taking my belt off and he says ‘Son, if you take your belt off, I’m going to throw you out of this game.’ I took my belt off and hand it to him and he tossed me.”

Umpires have been checking pitchers for foreign substances since 2021, but last season they were quick, perfunctory checks only of the pitcher’s hands. Major League Baseball reportedly sent teams a memo this week letting them know the checks would be more thorough this season.

Tepera didn’t appreciate a check, in that manner, at that time.

“It’s being disrespectful honestly, man to man,” Tepera said. “It has nothing to do with me being checked. It’s the way he did it and what he said to me. I’m a grown man. Don’t treat me like a child. That’s my problem with it.”

FLETCHER RETURNS David Fletcher was back in the Angels clubhouse on Sunday after playing for Italy in the World Baseball Classic, including a matchup against Shohei Ohtani in Italy’s loss to Japan in the quarterfinals. Fletcher had a hit in two at-bats against Ohtani.

“It was fun facing him,” Fletcher said. “He was definitely competing out there and giving everything he had. He was into it. Getting to be on the other side of him was definitely something that I was kind of looking forward to.”

NOTES Infielder Brandon Drury was not in the lineup for a second straight day because of a bruised calf. Nevin said that Drury was ready to play, but the manager opted to have him take one more day off. Drury still hit and did defensive drills in the morning. …

Nevin said Patrick Sandoval may not pitch as scheduled next Sunday in the Freeway Series at Dodger Stadium. Nevin said the Angels may decide that Sandoval needs a less intense atmosphere — like a minor league game — in between pitching for Mexico in the semifinals of the WBC on Monday and his first regular season start, on April 2.

Angels Considering What To Do With Jared Walsh Against Lefties This Season

TEMPE, Ariz. — The question of Jared Walsh’s performance against lefties once again hangs over the Angels’ first baseman.

The Angels now have more answers, though.

Walsh has a career .834 OPS against righties and a .600 OPS against lefties. Even though he’s struggled most of the time against lefties, he has had enough big moments — like a grand slam against Aroldis Chapman — to support the idea that he will hit lefties if given enough opportunity.

Walsh certainly believes that. Manager Phil Nevin also expressed confidence in Walsh, although he added that they have alternatives.

“I think he’s capable of hitting (lefties),” Nevin said. “We’re going to put our best lineup out each day that gives us the best chance to win. If we feel the matchup is right for Jared to face those guys then he will. We certainly have an abundance of right-handed hitters that have a history and a track record of being very successful against lefties.”

Brandon Drury, who played 48 games at first in his career, will start at first for the Angels on Saturday. Gio Urshela has never started a game at first in his big league career, but he’s played there in winter ball, and Nevin said he’s confident in his ability to do it because he “knows what kind of athlete he is.”

Drury has a career .770 OPS against lefties, including .955 last season. Urshela has a .764 OPS against lefties.

Walsh shrugged at the suggestion that there are now more challengers that could send him to the bench against lefties.

“I’ll cross that bridge when I get there,” Walsh said.

For now, Walsh said he’s just focused on hitting, period.

This spring Walsh is 8 for 25 (.320) with a .934 OPS. He is 3 for 7 against lefties. After striking out in his first four at-bats against lefties, he has three straight hits.

“I’m just going to get squared away against any pitcher, and get to the lefty thing,” he said. “I work regularly on angle flips against righties and lefties. I think if I stay through the ball more against lefties, there will be more hits in there.”

RENGIFO’S ROLE One certainty in the way the Angels construct their lineup against lefties is that Luis Rengifo will be playing.

“I would anticipate him being out there all the time against lefties,” Nevin said.

Rengifo, a switch-hitter, produced a .909 OPS against lefties last season, compared with .629 against righties.

Where Rengifo will play remains to be seen. He could play second or short, with Drury and Urshela joining him in the infield. Nevin also said he wants to see more of Rengifo in the outfield, including center field.

For now, the Angels would just like to see Rengifo play. Nevin conceded that he is concerned that Rengifo has played in just two of Venezuela’s games in the World Baseball Classic, coming to the plate just five times.

Nevin said he understands that Venezuela is going with its best lineup, and not as concerned with getting Rengifo ready for the season.

“I know that’s part of it,” Nevin said. “They are trying to win games. I’m a little partial. I think he should be out there. Of course when he comes back we’ve got to get him a lot of at-bats, which we can do.”

Venezuela is playing Team USA in a quarterfinal game on Saturday in Miami, so the soonest Rengifo is likely to be back in Angels camp is Monday.

NOTES Nevin said the Angels will use their sixth starter for the first time on April 12, which is their 12th game of the season. He said that they still have four candidates for the role: left-hander Tucker Davidson and right-handers Jaime Barría, Griffin Canning and Chase Silseth. Davidson and Barria are both out of options. Nevin said any of the four could pitch out of the bullpen when he isn’t starting, even though Canning and Silseth haven’t done that yet as professionals. “It’s a difficult decision,” Nevin said. “They are all pitching well.” …

Left-hander José Suarez is scheduled for the Angels’ fifth game of the season. Shohei Ohtani and Patrick Sandoval are pitching the first two games, at Oakland on March 30 and April 1. That leaves the uncertainty surrounding Tyler Anderson and Reid Detmers. Anderson pitched the day before Detmers this week, so presumably the Angels are lining up Anderson to start April 3 in Oakland and Detmers the next day in Seattle.

Angels’ Chase Silseth Banking On Stronger Legs, New Pitch

TEMPE, Ariz. — It was no mystery to Chase Silseth why he was so much more hittable the deeper he worked into big-league games last season.

The Angels right-hander said he could feel his legs tightening after a few innings, to the point that he’d be “just dead with my legs. I couldn’t even walk.”

Silseth said he spent the winter putting an emphasis on strengthening his legs.

After 10 innings over three Cactus League games, Silseth said he can tell that those extra sprints and extra hours on the bike will help him avoid what was one of his biggest issues in his rookie season.

“It was really frustrating to be lights out in the first four innings, then all of the sudden the fifth comes, and we’d be up 3-1 and I’d give up a three-run jack,” Silseth said.

Silseth held opponents to a .784 OPS over his first 60 pitches, but after that opponents had a 1.351 OPS against him. His average fastball went from 95.4 mph in his first 60 pitches to 94.4 mph.

The average exit velocity he allowed went from 92.1 mph to 95.7 mph.

The difficulty as he got deeper into games spoiled some promising outings, leaving him with a 6.59 ERA after seven big-league starts in 2022.

There was some thought within the organization that Silseth may just be better as a reliever because he was unable to maintain his stuff over longer outings.

Silseth, a 22-year-old who was less than a year removed from the draft when he made his big-league debut in May, said the issue was simply that he needed to change the way he was conditioned.

“Just attacked (my legs) in a whole different way,” Silseth said. “If I had sprints, do a couple extra. Add an extra leg day. I’d have two lower leg days and one upper body, then I’d have a core day but I’d add lower body, just to get them stronger. If I had reps on the bike to do, I’d do a couple extra. Every leg workout I do is going to help me have some stamina. It’s done wonders.”

Silseth learned another trick to maintain his stamina just a couple weeks ago. Pitching coach Matt Wise and Angels veterans finally got the admittedly high-strung Silseth to just relax in the dugout between innings instead of pacing up and down.

“I was telling Reid (Detmers), ‘Holy cow this makes a difference,’” Silseth said. “And he said ‘Why do you think we do it?’”

Silseth has also added a cutter to his repertoire this spring. He said it’s given him “a different dimension,” particularly against lefties.

“I’m loving it right now,” Silseth said. “I’m going to continue to grow with it. I just started throwing it. It surprises me how comfortable I am with it. I just can’t wait to keep working at it.”

The combination of stronger legs, a new approach to energy conservation and a new repertoire has helped Silseth make a strong impression as he fights for a job in the Angels’ rotation. He is battling left-hander Tucker Davidson and right-hander Griffin Canning for the No. 6 spot.

All three have pitched well this spring. Silseth is probably last among the group because Davidson is out of options and Canning has more experience, but obviously the Angels will have a need for him at some point.

“I’m excited for whatever this year has in store,” Silseth said. “Wherever I pitch, I’m ready to go.”

A PREVIEW? Manager Phil Nevin went to Chase Field on Wednesday night to see Mike Trout drive in all three runs in Team USA’s World Baseball Classic victory, and then he woke up at 3 a.m. to see Shohei Ohtani pitch Japan to a quarterfinal victory over Italy.

“Watching Mike, watching Shohei on these stages, you can’t help but look forward to the future and understand these are big-time players, and look forward to what they’ll be on the big stage of the playoffs too,” Nevin said.

After Ohtani worked 4 2/3 innings on 71 pitches for Japan on Thursday, Nevin would not comment on what’s next for him. Ohtani is not expected to pitch again in the WBC, instead making his next start for the Angels in an exhibition March 24, then pitching in the Angels’ March 30 opener in Oakland.

“I think out of respect for the Japanese team and the way they plan out their games, we’ll leave it up to them (to announce),” Nevin said. “We know what he’s going to do, but we’ll keep that between us.”

NOTES Left-hander Tyler Anderson was able to get his work done with a 70-pitch simulated game Wednesday, despite the rain that fell for much of the day during the Angels’ off day. Anderson had been scheduled to work in a minor-league game. …

Outfielder Jordyn Adams is 8 for 20 (.400) with an 1.150 OPS in spring training. “He’s translated some swing changes he’s made into games,” Nevin said. “We feel really good about it. Obviously, he’s still in camp, which is a credit to him. We made some moves to get some more guys some more at-bats, but there’s still some at-bats for him to have here. There’s still some looks we want to take of him. He’s an exciting player. I think there’s a lot in there. Somebody that we really think can impact us down the line in the future.”

Angels’ Reid Detmers Aims To Be A 20-Game Winner

TEMPE, Ariz. — Although Reid Detmers has dived into the analytics of pitching that are now mandatory for any big-leaguer, he is also somewhat of a throwback.

The Angels’ 23-year-old left-hander has set a simple goal for himself this year.

“I just want to get 20 wins, honestly,” Detmers said. “That’s always a goal. … That should always be the goal for a pitcher. You see the top guys get 19, 20, 21 wins every year. You want to be that guy.”

The Atlanta Braves’ Kyle Wright was baseball’s only 20-game winner in 2022. In the previous four full seasons, excluding the pandemic-shortened 2020, there have been a total of five pitchers to win 20 games.

Detmers won seven games last year, including a no-hitter, in 25 starts. His 3.77 ERA suggested he could have won more with better support from the offense or bullpen, both of which the Angels expect to be improved this year. There is also reason to believe Detmers could make a significant jump in what he can control.

And it starts with numbers on a radar gun.

“I got to catch him a few times last year, and he was outstanding,” Angels catcher Matt Thaiss said. “And I’ve caught him this spring, and the stuff just jumped from last year to this year.”

Detmers’ fastball averaged 93.2 mph last season. When he started Friday in a Cactus League game against the Dodgers, his fastball was consistently at 95-97 mph.

Last season, the evolution of his slider was well chronicled. He was throwing it 82-84 mph early in the season. After he was sent to Triple-A, he made an adjustment and returned throwing the pitch 86-88 mph.

Last week against the Dodgers, his slider was 89-91 mph.

“It’s a pretty big difference,” Angels pitching coach Matt Wise said. “With all the guys, if you can increase the stuff, it gives you more margin for error.”

Detmers’ slider is particularly effective because of the way it spins. Many sliders have more of a diagonal spin, which makes the ball go down and toward the pitcher’s glove side. Detmers’ slider has a gyro spin, like a quarterback throwing a spiral, so it drops straight down.

“It’s extremely tough,” Thaiss said. “It comes out looking just like his fastball. As a hitter, as a lefty I wouldn’t want to face that. It’s probably his best weapon. It’s a really good pitch.”

It became a much better weapon when he increased the velocity last season, so now that it’s increased even more, there is reason to believe Detmers could have a breakout season.

“It will definitely make a difference,” Detmers said of the extra velocity. “Obviously it’s good to have, but I’m not out there thinking I want to throw this hard, because then your mind is not in the right spot. You’ve still gotta make pitches.”

Detmers said he didn’t set out to increase his velocity. He did spend some time last winter working with Driveline. He also worked out with Eric Cressy, the well-known training guru who runs a facility in Florida.

“I said I just want to get stronger and more explosive,” Detmers said. “We made up a program for the whole offseason and I just stuck to that. And the velo came.”

FIGHTING FOR A JOB Non-roster invitees Jake Lamb and Kevin Padlo have made impressions on manager Phil Nevin this spring. Lamb is hitting .333 with a .941 OPS in 24 plate appearances, and Padlo is hitting .321 with a .976 OPS in 30 plate appearances.

Lamb, 32, is a left-handed hitter who plays primarily first and third. He’s played parts of nine years in the big leagues. Padlo, 26, is a right-handed hitter who also plays the corner infield spots. He’s been up and down with four organizations in the majors over the past two years.

The Angels seemed to be set with six infielders: Anthony Rendon, David Fletcher, Luis Rengifo, Brandon Drury, Jared Walsh and Gio Urshela. Barring an injury, it would be surprising for the Angels to keep Lamb or Padlo over any of those players, and the Angels would need to be creative with their roster to keep a seventh infielder.

Nevin is not closing any doors, though.

“We’re gonna take our best players,” Nevin said. “Jake has a history of doing a lot of good things at the big-league level. Padlo’s had a lot of great seasons in Triple-A. People don’t realize he’s 26 years old. He’s still got a lot of baseball in front of him. I’d be surprised if both of them didn’t help us at some point this year.”

NOTES Jaime Barría rejoined the Angels on Tuesday after pitching for Panama in the World Baseball Classic in Taichung, Taiwan. Barria pitched one game for Panama, allowing one run in 2 2/3 innings. He also pitched an inning in an exhibition game. Barria said he’s expecting to return to Cactus League action sometime this weekend. The Angels are trying to decide if Barria will be strictly a reliever or bounce between the rotation and bullpen. …

Angels’ 19-year-old catcher Edgar Quero, one of the organization’s top prospects, has caught 18 innings in seven big-league exhibition games this spring. He’s come to the plate seven times, going hitless with three walks. “He’s caught a lot of our guys and we’ve been impressed with what he’s been able to do,” Nevin said. “As far as game-planning and sticking to what our game plans are, that’s what’s impressed me the most. I know he’s gonna hit. I know he can catch. It’s the game-planning, the mental side of getting behind the plate that impressed me this spring for a 19-year-old guy. …  He’s gonna be a good big-leaguer some day.”

World Baseball Classic: Shohei Ohtani Helps Japan Advance To Quarterfinals

TOKYO — Shohei Ohtani had another RBI double, 21-year-old right-hander Roki Sasaki reached 100 mph 21 times in 66 pitches and Japan beat the Czech Republic 10-2 on Saturday night to clinch a quarterfinal berth in the World Baseball Classic.

Shugo Maki hit his second home run of the tournament and new Boston Red Sox oufielder Masataka Yoshida had three RBIs, including a go-ahead, two-run double in the third inning off loser Ondrej Satoria as the Samurai Warriors overcame a 1-0 deficit.

Ohtani went 1 for 3 with a walk before a crowd of 41,637 in the Tokyo Dome, leaving for a pinch hitter in the eighth inning. He is 5 for 10 with three doubles, four RBIs and five walks for Japan (3-0), which has one more group game and will host a quarterfinal on Wednesday or Thursday. He also has pitched four scoreless innings.

Sasaki struck out eight in 3 2/3 innings and got the win. He allowed an unearned run, two hits and two walks.Sasaki threw the 16th perfect game in Japanese major league history in April, then pitched eight perfect innings in his next start before being pulled after 102 pitches. He went 9-2 with a 2.02 ERA for the Pacific League’s Chiba Lotte Marines last year, striking out 173 in 129 1/3 innings.

In the opener, Rixon Wingrove had four RBIs as Australia (2-0) won in a 12-2 rout of China (0-3) in a game shortened to seven innings by the 10-run mercy rule.

In Group B at Taichung, Boston’s Yu Chang hit a tiebreakking, second-inning grand slam that lifted host Taiwan (2-1) to a 9-5 win over the Netherlands (2-1), and Panama (2-2) won 2-0 over Italy (1-2).

JAPAN 10, CZECH REPUBLIC 2 Japan pitchers struck 16 in all in the Tokyo Dome.

The Czechs went ahead in the first when Marek Chlup doubled and scored on shortstop Takumu Nakano’s throwing error.

Ohtani struck out with two on in the third, but Japan went ahead as Yoshida doubled and scored on a single by 2015 Central League MVP Tetsuto Yamada.

Lars Nootbaar had an RBI single in the fourth as Japan opened a 7-1 lead. Kenduke Kondoh and Ohtani hit consecutive run-scoring doubles, and Ohtani stole third and scored on Yoshida’s sacrifice fly.

Yuki Udagawa and Hiroya Miyagi finished a four-hitter. Miyagi threw 68 pitches over five innings and struck out the final five Czech batters,

AUSTRALIA 12, CHINA 2 Wingrove hit a three-run double off loser Xin Qi in the first inning and added an RBI single in a five-run fourth as the Southern Thunder opened a 10-2 lead in Tokyo.

Robbie Glendinning hit his second homer of the tournament, a two-run drive in the fourth against Weiyi Wang.

Winner Kyle Glogoski allowed one hit in 2 2/3 scoreless innings with five strikeouts and three walks. Coen Wynne pitched 2 2/3 hitless innings and Todd Van Steensel threw a perfect seventh as four pitchers combined on a five-hitter.

China scored twice in the fourth when Jie Cao hit his second double on the game, Luke Wilkins threw a run-scoring wild pitch and Jinjun Luo had an RBI single.

PANAMA 2, ITALY 0 Jose Ramos homered off loser Michele Vassalotti leading off the second inning and scored on Allen Cordoba’s seventh-inning single against Sam Gaviglio in Taichung, Taiwan.

Ramos is hitting .313 (5 for 16).

Italy put runners at the corners in the ninth when Javy Guerra walked Dominic Fletcher leading off and Brett Sullivan singled, but John Valente struck out and Nicky Lopez hit a comebacker that Panama turned into a game-ending double play.

Winner Harold Araúz allowed two hits in four scoreless innings, and Humberto Mejía, Alberto Baldonado and Guerra finished a five-hitter.

TAIWAN 9, NETHERLANDS 5 Chang homered off Derek West after Li Lin’s tying RBI single against loser Lars Huijer. Chang hit a two-run homer in the 11-7 victory over Italy in Taichung, Taiwan, and is 6 for 12 with seven RBIs in the tournament.

Winner Tzu-Peng Huang gave up two runs — one earned — and two hits in 2 2/3 innings.

Didi Gregorius had two RBIs for the Netherlands, including a first-inning RBI single, and Xander Bogaerts went 0 for 3 with three strikeouts and two walks.

Tsung-Che Cheng’s run-scoring single and Kun-Yu Chiang’s sacrifice fly boosted the lead in the third, and Chieh-Hsien Chen made it 8-2 with an RBI triple in the fourth.

Ray-Patrick Didder homered for the Dutch, who got RBI singles from Juremi Profar — Jurickson’s brother — and Wladimir Balentien. The Netherlands closed to 8-5 in the eighth before Chia-Hao Sung retired Chadwick Tromp on an inning-ending flyout with a man on.

Shohei Ohtani Shines For Japan In World Baseball Classic

TOKYO — Shohei Ohtani allowed one hit in the four innings he pitched, struck out five and was the winning pitcher Thursday in Japan’s 8-1 victory over China in Group B at the World Baseball Classic.

Ohtani also doubled off the left field wall in the fourth to score two at the Tokyo Dome and increase Japan’s lead to 3-0.

The fans got what they came for – Ohtani pitching, hitting and not disappointing the 41,616 who showed up. Japan eventually won in a game closer than expected until the hosts broke it open late.

Besides Ohtani, the fan favorite was Lars Nootbaar of the St. Louis Cardinals, who made a sprawling catch is center and also led off and hit the first pitch he saw for a single in the first.

China cut the lead to 3-1 in the sixth on Pei Liang’s home run, but Japan got it back in the seventh to make it 4-1 on a homer by Shugo Maki.

The Japanese added four runs in the eighth to put the game away.

Japan will next play South Korea on Friday while China takes on the Czech Republic.

AUSTRALIA 8, SOUTH KOREA 7 Robbie Perkins hit one of Australia’s three homers to beat South Korea in Group B at the Tokyo Dome.

Australia, leading 5-4 in the top of the eighth, put the game away with a three-run shot by Perkins. The blast came off Hyeon-Jong Yang, who had entered in relief in the inning and made only seven pitches and got no one out.

Australia went ahead 2-0 in the fifth, but South Korea rallied with three runs in the bottom half of the inning. That came on Euiji Yang’s three-run, line-drive home run to left field.

South Korea added another run in the sixth. But Australia scored three in the seventh to take the lead.

The seventh inning also featured a three-run homer from Robbie Glendinning, with Australia living off its power game.

South Korea scored three runs in its eighth – on five walks and a hit batter – to cut the lead to 8-7 but could not break through in the ninth.

NETHERLANDS 3, PANAMA 1 The Netherlands, after beating Cuba in the opener, won its second game in two days in Group A.

Xander Bogaerts homered in the third to give the Dutch a 1-0 lead. Jurickson Profar added to the lead in the fifth with another one-run home run.

Panama’s Erasmo Caballero cut the lead to 2-1 in the sixth on an single that scored Jose Ramos.

The Netherlands picked up its final run in the eight when Bogaerts scored on a wild pitch by Alberto Baldonado.

ITALY 6, CUBA 3 (10 innings) Cuba lost its second game in Group A play, falling to Italy in what is a disappointing start for what used to be Latin America’s top power.

Brett Sullivan’s sacrifice in the sixth scored Sal Frelick and gave Italy a 1-0 lead. The Italians made it 2-0 in the seventh on a double by Miles Mastrobuoni that scored Nicky Lopez.

Cuba cut the lead to 2-1 in its half of the seventh on an RBI single from Lorenzo Quintana that scored Erisbel Arruebarrena.

In the eighth, Arruebarrena tried to save Cuba and tied the game on a single scoring Alfredo Despaigne.

The game went to extra innings with Italy scoring four in the 10th to clinch the victory. Cuba picked up one in the bottom of the 10th.

Italy is 1-0 and faces winless Taiwan on Friday. Cuba faces Panama next.

Shohei Ohtani’s Return Has Japan Buzzing For World Baseball Classic

TOKYO — Everyone in Japan seems to be a fan of Shohei Ohtani, and the buzz even extends to his teammates.

That includes St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Lars Nootbaar – the first to play for Japan’s national team because of ancestry. His mother Kumi was born in Japan.

The former El Segundo High and USC star just joined the squad and barely knows the Angels superstar. But he’s been impressed, which is an understatement. Nootbaar was bragging about Ohtani to a small group inside the Tokyo Dome that included former major league and Japan league manager Bobby Valentine.

“He’s just incredible,” Nootbaar said of Ohtani.

Just then, Ohtani came around the corner, gave Nootbaar a quick hug, and then disappeared down a hallway.

“Never seen it. Never seen it before. It’s special,” Nootbaar added. “It’s special.”

To which Valentine replied: “Enjoy it.”

Nootbaar seems to be.

Moments later, in a jam-packed news conference, Nootbaar elaborated even more about Ohtani, who is expected to start for Japan on Thursday against China in their opening game of the World Baseball Classic.

And when he’s pulled, he’s expected to be the DH.

Nootbaar has started as the lead-off hitter for Japan in a few practice games and could be there again with his team among the tournament favorites alongside the Dominican Republic and the United States.

“I’m just like you guys,” Nootbaar said. “I think I’m just like a fan being able to watch him. I’m just fortunate to get a front-row seat to it. It’s been pretty amazing to watch him go about his business, and how he goes about his work and handles himself on and off the field. It’s really impressive seeing that side.

“It’s something I’ve never seen before,” Nootbaar added. “He’s a freak of nature and even a better guy, and I mean that wholeheartedly. I’ve been very impressed with how he goes about his business.”

The Japanese have a word they use to describe Ohtani – “nitoryu” – which refers to a samurai fighting with two swords. Or more broadly, it mean’s doing two things simultaneously.

That’s Ohtani. He pitches. He’s a power hitter. And his return after a long absence to play in Japan in the WBC is reminiscent of the frenzy around Ichiro Suzuki’s final Major League Baseball games four years ago – also at the Tokyo Dome.

Ohtani couldn’t wait to add to the buzz around him. He hit a pair of three-run home runs on Monday in Osaka in Japan’s exhibition game against the Hanshin Tigers.

In anticipation of Japan’s practice game on Monday, the Sports Nippon newspaper noted in a large headline that it had been 1,974 days since Ohtani last played in Japan. That was on Oct. 9, 2017, his last game with the Nippon-Ham Fighters before going to the Angels.

Similar to tennis player Naomi Osaka, Ohtani is not just a Japanese star but a global marquee name who draws record endorsements. Ohtani is reported to earn $20 million annually in endorsements, far more than any major leaguer.

Ohtani represents largely high-end brands, a Japanese bank and a Japanese watchmaker. His face is everywhere, even on posters in department stores selling cosmetics for men.

Osaka, who is pregnant and has stepped away from tennis, is the world’s top earning female athlete.

Ohtani has agreed to a $30 million deal with the Angels for the 2023 season. After that he will be a free agent and his next contract could be the largest ever for a major leaguer.

Koichi Nakano, an observer of Japanese politics who teaches at Sophia University, said the “idolization of Ohtani in Japan reflects its own inferiority complex vis-a-vis the fatherland of baseball that is the U.S.”

Nakano noted the power of Ohtani. Japanese television often does not cover national parliamentary debates, but seldom misses following Japanese “heroes” like Ohtani excelling in the United States.

“So each time where there is a Japanese ‘export’ that was hugely successful in MLB,” Nakano said, “the Japanese are enthralled.”

Angels Hard-Throwing Prospect Ben Joyce Continues To Impress In First Spring Training

TEMPE, Ariz. — Each time that Ben Joyce pitches, his chances of breaking camp with the Angels seem a little more realistic.

Joyce, the Angels’ third-round pick last July, has not allowed a run in three games, and he hit 102 mph with his fastball during a perfect inning on Sunday.

Manager Phil Nevin said Joyce’s secondary pitches are most encouraging, though.

“He can hit 102 all he wants, but if that’s all you get over a plate and hitters know it, they’re gonna hit it,” Nevin said. “These are big league hitters, and they’ve done that before so he’s learning. His secondary stuff is getting better and better and it’s gonna make it much more effective.”

The Angels have used Joyce as the first reliever in his last two outings, allowing them to see him against big league hitters.

Still, there is more to evaluate than just the way he pitches. Nevin said they need to determine if Joyce is ready for the unrestricted schedule of a big league reliever. Joyce has only played a half a season as a professional, pitching 13 innings in 13 games at Double-A. In 2021, Chris Rodriguez made the Opening Day roster as a reliever, but the Angels closely monitored his workload so he was often unavailable.

“To have somebody out there you have to manage on a daily basis as far as his workload, who can only pitch on certain days, would be very difficult to have,” Nevin said.

POSITION SHIFTING Infielder Andrew Velazquez was in the lineup in center field for Monday’s game, the start of what Nevin said will be a period of expanding the defensive roles for a variety of players.

With several of the Angels starters leaving for the World Baseball Classic, that creates more opportunity for Velazquez or Jared Walsh to play outfield, or Brandon Drury to play shortstop, Nevin said.

Infielders Luis Rengifo, David Fletcher and Gio Urshela can all play the corner outfield spots, which might allow the Angels to go without a true fourth outfielder if they want to keep an extra player at another position.

Nevin said the Angels are still planning on Brett Phillips as the fourth outfielder, though.

“We like what Brett brings in that extra outfield spot, the defense and versatility he brings at all three,” Nevin said. “Metrics wise, he’s one of the best outfielders in the game the last three years. To have that is a nice luxury.”

NOTES Left-hander José Suarez said he had no issues in his first outing with the new pitch timer, in the Angels’ split-squad game on Sunday. Suarez, who has been one of the Angels pitchers who takes the most time between pitches, did not have any violations. “I know it’s something that’s there, but it didn’t really faze me that much because I played I used it in Triple-A last year,” Suarez said through an interpreter. …

Left-hander Tyler Anderson is scheduled to start for the Angels in their exhibition against Team USA on Thursday. Mike Trout is expected to be in the lineup for that game, which is one of two exhibitions for Team USA before opening WBC play on Saturday. …

Right-hander Fernando Romero is still not in camp because of delays with his visa. Nevin said he has no further information on when Romero might arrive.

Game Day: For Dodgers, Lakers, That Popping Sound Isn’t Good News

Editor’s note: This is the Tuesday, February 28, edition of the “Game Day with Kevin Modesti” newsletter. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.

Gavin Lux reportedly “heard a pop” in his right knee. LeBron James reportedly “heard a pop” in his right foot. The Dodgers and Lakers could find out that those were the sounds of playoff bubbles bursting.

First, there’s a bunch of transaction news:

The Chargers made official Derrick Ansley’s promotion to defensive coordinator. UCLA announced its hiring of D’Anton Lynn, 33, from the Baltimore Ravens as defensive coordinator. Before its season opener Saturday, the Galaxy is getting defender Lucas Calegari, 21, on loan from a Brazilian club to replace Barcelona-bound Julian Araujo. WNBA All-Star Nneka Ogwumike said she re-signed with the Sparks because she sees a bigger future for the franchise. The Clippers’ acquisition of Russell Westbrook leaves coach Tyronn Lue with hard calls on which guards to deploy late in games. And there are other headlines:

Albie Pearson, one of the Angels’ original stars, has died at age 88. The Ducks have their second three-game winning streak after beating the Blackhawks. CIF regional basketball playoffs begin this week with Southern Section boys champion Centennial High (Corona) and girls champion Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth) getting first-round byes before playing Saturday. And Jim Alexander has an interesting column about UCLA’s and USC’s women’s basketball coaches cooperating to prepare to join the Big Ten. There’s no comparing Gavin Lux and LeBron James as athletes, but it’s fair to ask if the Dodgers are much better equipped to handle a long absence for their shortstop than the Lakers would be to deal with a long absence for their superstar.

Lux injured his right knee running between second and third base on a double-play grounder to third in the Dodgers’ spring-training game against the San Diego Padres Monday inPeoria, Ariz. Lux left the field on a cart and the Dodgers announced Tuesday morning he’s likely out for the year with an ACL tear.

James re-injured his right foot driving for a layup in the Lakers’ win over the Mavericks in Dallas on Sunday. He finished the game. But the injury is reported to be serious enough that James could miss weeks instead of days.

For the Lakers, there’s no replacing LeBron, and this could mark the end of their chances of climbing into a playoff spot in the 21 games left in the regular season.

For the Dodgers, Lux is hardly a franchise player, but this could be the most painful reminder possible that their roster looks less resilient than it did going into recent seasons.

All-Star shortstop Trea Turner was one of three everyday starters the Dodgers let go this winter – along with center fielder Cody Bellinger and third baseman Justin Turner – without spending big on the usual squad of new stars. Turner was going to be replaced by moving Lux from second base to the 25-year-old’s natural position at short. Lux’s spot at second would be taken by 23-year-old prospect Miguel Vargas despite his scarce experience there.

With Lux out, his immediate replacement at short will be Miguel Rojas, the sharp-fielding, light-hitting 34-year-old they acquired in a trade with the Miami Marlins in January.

Dodgers beat writer Bill Plunkett analyzed the infield in a series of spring-training previews earlier this month. First baseman Freddie Freeman is the only holdover and only sure thing remaining from 2022, when L.A. won 111 regular-season games before flaming out against the Padres in the playoffs. Max Muncy would be the first choice at third base, where he played 84 games last season. Yonny Hernandez, purchased from the Oakland Athletics in December, is the top utility option. Michael Busch is the prospect to watch.

Plunkett summed it up this way in his Feb. 3 analysis: “The likelihood is the 2023 infield will feature multiple configurations – all with Freeman at first base.”

The reconfiguration begins today.

Follow Plunkett on Twitter (@billplunkettocr) and bookmark the Southern California News Group’s Dodgers coverage (here) for updates and more analysis.

And look to Lakers beat reporter Kyle Goon (@kylegoon) and SCNG’s Lakers coverage (here) for the latest on LeBron.


Lakers try to complete a two-game season sweep of the Grizzlies when they visit Memphis (4:30 p.m., TNT, SPSN). Clippers upgraded Ivica Zubac (strained right calf) to questionable for the home game against the Timberwolves (7 p.m., TNT, BSSC). Kings seek their second win on a five-game trip as they face Winnipeg (5 p.m., BSW). Kings update. Dodgers host the Reds in Glendale, Ariz. (12:05 p.m., SNLA). Yesterday’s game report. Angels face the Athletics in Mesa, Ariz. (12:05 p.m., no TV). Yesterday’s game report. NEXT QUESTION

Do the Dodgers’ offseason changes leave them prepared to contend for a championship when injury strikes a starter like shortstop Gavin Lux? Share your opinion by email ( or on Twitter (@KevinModesti).


“Pac-12 football media day has been moved from Los Angeles to Las Vegas this year, the conference announces. Can’t imagine why that happened.” – USC beat reporter Adam Grosbard (@AdamGrosbard).

1,000 WORDS

Low-ball hitter: The Angels‘ Shohei Ohtani signs autographs before yesterday’s Cactus League game against the San Francisco Giants in Tempe, Ariz. Photo is by Morry Gash for AP.


Thanks for reading the newsletter. Send suggestions, comments and questions by email at and via Twitter @KevinModesti.

Editor’s note: Thanks for reading the “Game Day with Kevin Modesti” newsletter. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.

Kevin Modesti | reporter Kevin Modesti is a reporter for the Los Angeles Daily News and the Southern California News Group who hosts Game Day With Kevin Modesti, the papers’ sports newsletter. An L.A. native, he has been a sports writer, columnist and editor, an editorial board member, writer and editor in the Opinion section, and a political reporter. He lives in the San Fernando Valley.

Dodgers’ Gavin Lux Out For The Season With Torn ACL

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Gavin Lux will not be playing shortstop – or any other position – for the Dodgers in 2023.

Lux suffered tears to the anterior cruciate ligament and lateral collateral ligament when he stumbled while running the bases during Monday’s Cactus League game against the San Diego Padres. He will have surgery on his right knee and miss the entire season.

“It’s heartbreaking, you know,” Lux said, leaning on crutches Tuesday morning, his voice cracking and holding back tears as he spoke to reporters. “You put in a lot of time and work and really enjoy the guys in the clubhouse … the hardest part is just not being able to be on the field, for sure.”

Dr. Neal ElAttrache will perform the knee surgery in Los Angeles on March 7.

“Gavin is obviously crushed,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Tuesday morning at Camelback Ranch. “It’s a huge blow, my heart just goes out to him.”

Once the top-rated prospect in baseball as he progressed through the Dodgers’ system, Lux was asked to play second base for the Dodgers with first Corey Seager and then Trea Turner at shortstop. When Turner left via free agency this past winter, the Dodgers planned to move Lux back to his original position and make him their everyday shortstop.

Miguel Rojas will replace Lux as the primary shortstop. An exceptional defender, Rojas was acquired in a trade with the Miami Marlins this winter. Rojas had been the Marlins’ everyday shortstop the past four seasons but was slated to play a utility role for the Dodgers.

“For me, the first thing that I felt was really pain for Gavin,” Rojas said. “A young kid that has been working his ass off to get ready for the season to be the everyday shortstop for this team. He’s a big part of this club. I just feel bad for him that he has to go through whatever he’s going to have to go through.

“What it means for me is what I’ve been preparing for. I’ve been playing shortstop every day for the last four or five years of my career. I went into the offseason thinking I was going to have to prepare for 162 games and here it is.”

Rojas, 34, is an improvement over Lux defensively at shortstop, but he does not offer as much on the offensive side. The 25-year-old Lux seemed to be coming into his own as a hitter last season, posting career highs in average (.276), on-base percentage (.346) and OPS (.745).

“I think there’s more in there offensively than there has been the last two years,” Roberts said of Rojas. “It’s the defense that’s the primary focus, and I felt that way with Gavin as well at shortstop, taking on that position. (Rojas) is gonna be at the bottom of the order and be a leader and put together good at-bats. But it’s not gonna be his job to carry us offensively. We expect that professional at-bat. And I think with the information we have and the game prep, I still believe there’s a lot more than there has been the last two years.”

Roberts also mentioned Chris Taylor will begin working more on the infield in spring games so that he would also be an option to fill in at shortstop. Like Lux, shortstop was Taylor’s original position before the Dodgers converted him to a multi-position role. Taylor did not start a game on the infield last season, though, after undergoing elbow surgery following the 2021 season.

“I talked to Chris and he’s 100 percent healthy,” Roberts said, adding that Taylor’s throwing program would change if he’s preparing for an infield role. “He’s aware of that. He feels confident in that, so now bouncing around from short to potentially play a little bit of third base if he needs to spell Max (Muncy), and then play a little left field. We’re confident that he can do that.”

Using Taylor – and Mookie Betts at second base, also mentioned by Roberts – as infield depth could open up playing time in the outfield for a group jockeying for spots. Jason Heyward and Trayce Thompson are expected to be on the Opening Day roster. Steven Duggar, James Outman and Bradley Zimmer are also in the mix.

If the Dodgers look outside the organization for shortstop help, veteran Jose Iglesias is an unsigned free agent. A trade for someone like Brewers shortstop Willy Adames was the subject of speculation during the offseason and will likely resurface.