TEMPE, Ariz. — While the baseball world was focused on the matchup between Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout to end the World Baseball Classic, it was nothing like the feelings their Angels teammates were having back in Arizona.
“I was nervous as hell,” first baseman Jared Walsh said Wednesday morning. “I was sitting there and my heart was pounding. I love Sho. I love Mike. … That was a win-win, but also a lose-lose. You care about all those people involved.”
Infielder David Fletcher said the anticipation grew as the elements aligned for the matchup.
“When Shohei walked down to the bullpen and I realized Trout was up and they were up by one, I was like ‘Holy (expletive),” Fletcher said. “You can’t make that up. That was a pretty storybook ending.”
Manager Phil Nevin said his phone was flooded with texts asking him who he was rooting for.
“That never even crossed my mind,” Nevin said. “I love this game. There’s no other sport, no other arena that could build that type of drama. That’s why our game’s the greatest game there is… Two players on the same team. The last out. It’s one run. It’s the two best players in the world.”
The highly anticipated matchup ended with Ohtani striking out Trout on an 87 mph sweeper that had 19 inches of break.
“The last pitch he threw, there’s not a hitter alive that’s going to hit that pitch,” Nevin said.
Walsh and outfielder Jo Adell, speaking as hitters, said that’s an impossible pitch for a hitter to handle in March.
“I’m sure, knowing Mike, how hard working he is, he’s a little unsatisfied with that game,” Walsh said. “I have a feeling when it really matters during the year, he’s going to pick us up in a huge spot down the stretch.”
Therein lies the other narrative that surrounded all of the excitement of the performance of these two generational players in the World Baseball Classic.
The unavoidable backdrop to this moment was the reality that Ohtani has never even been close to playing in a pennant race for the Angels, let alone the postseason. Trout has not been in the playoffs since 2014.
This could be their final season in the same uniform, with Ohtani set to become a free agent.
The thoughts going through the minds of Angels fans were also going through Adell’s mind as he watched Ohtani, Trout and No. 2 starter Patrick Sandoval all starring in the high-intensity environment of the WBC.
“I think it fires all of us up,” Adell said. “Anyone who watched that and saw the competitiveness between those two, I think it’s good going into the year for them to have felt sort of a postseason atmosphere. … It’s pretty cool for them to have that experience and come back and bring some of that energy here.”
Ohtani and Sandoval will be back in Angels camp in Tempe for one last tuneup for the regular season.
Ohtani will pitch in a minor-league game Friday. Nevin said the plan all along was to make room for Ohtani to pitch one inning in the final if Japan needed him. It was his bullpen day in preparation for a start Friday, which sets him up to be on his normal five days’ rest before starting Opening Day the following Thursday in Oakland.
Sandoval will pitch Sunday in a minor-league game, which lines him up for the second game of the season, the following Saturday in Oakland.
Both pitchers were scheduled to throw in big-league exhibitions – Ohtani against the Padres and Sandoval at Dodger Stadium in the Freeway Series – but the assignments were changed to minor-league games to reduce the stress after pitching with the intensity of the WBC.
“They’ll have hitters and be facing a different uniform, but the intensity they’ve pitched at the last three weeks, we need to throttle that back,” Nevin said.
As for Trout, he would not have played Wednesday or Saturday – the final day in Arizona – and the Angels are off Thursday, so he’d have come back to Tempe only to play on Friday. The Angels are instead having him go back to Southern California. He will work out at Angel Stadium on Friday and Saturday and play in the Freeway Series on Sunday at Dodger Stadium.
GOOD SHOWING Right-hander Austin Warren said he feels like this spring he’s thrown even better than he did when he had an impressive showing in the majors in 2021, before a 2022 season spoiled by a freak injury.
Warren broke his nose when a ball hit him while he walked across the field during batting practice in May. Warren didn’t throw for a month and a half while recovering from the injury. He also suffered headaches for two months after that, and didn’t get sufficient sleep when he had to sleep upright immediately following the broken nose.
That added up to a 5.63 ERA in 14 games and eventually losing his spot on the 40-man roster.
This spring, Warren has allowed two runs in eight innings, with nine strikeouts and no walks. He said he’s also benefited from a new sweeper that he’s added.
“I think it’s a good pitch to have in my arsenal,” he said. “I can throw it any time, any count. Just keep hitters on their toes and not know what’s coming.”
Warren, 27, is in the mix for a spot in the Opening Day bullpen, but probably more likely to start the season in the minors. He nonetheless offers the Angels encouraging depth if he can repeat – or improve on – the 1.77 ERA he posted in 16 big-league games in 2021.
NOTES Catcher Max Stassi is away from the team dealing with a “family emergency,” Nevin said. …
Left-hander José Suarez is scheduled to pitch in a minor-league game Thursday, which is an Angels off day. Right-hander Griffin Canning will start the exhibition against the Padres on Friday, while Ohtani pitches in a minor-league game. Left-handers Tucker Davidson, Tyler Anderson and Reid Detmers are scheduled to start the three Freeway Series games against the Dodgers. …
On Saturday, the Angels will use a collection of relievers for their final game in Arizona. Sam Bachman, one of the Angels’ top pitching prospects, is among the relievers on the list to work in that game. Bachman has pitched two scoreless innings so far in big-league exhibitions. He is going to be stretched out to start in the minors this season.