As this dreadful season nears its final two weeks, Shohei Ohtani is still searching for the kind of performance at the plate the Angels had expected.
Ohtani, who is hitting .195 with a .654 OPS, was benched Thursday afternoon even though the Angels were facing a right-handed pitcher.
Previously this season, Ohtani had missed only six games against right-handers, and four of those were because of his pitching schedule or the injury he suffered while pitching. Another was the second game of a doubleheader, when manager Joe Maddon gave Mike Trout the DH spot.
Ohtani has had even more trouble against lefties – hitting .154 with a .503 OPS – so normally Maddon has given him days off when lefties are pitching.
“There’s no question he’s struggling,” Maddon said before the Angels game Thursday against the Texas Rangers in Arlington. “I mean, his work’s been great. I talked to Paul Sorrento – he works with him a lot, they all do – but I talked to him and they love his work and BP pregame has been really good. Just hasn’t been able to take it into the game yet, but he will. And I just don’t want to keep piling it on him.”
So far, Ohtani’s pitching performance has obviously been disappointing because injuries have prevented him from being on the field. But his hitting has also declined since his rookie year.
In 2018, Ohtani hit .285 with a .925 OPS. Last season, without having to pitch at all, he hit .286 but his power declined and he had an .848 OPS. The metrics showed him hitting the ball just as hard, but his launch angle had declined.
This season, Ohtani’s exit velocity and hard hit percentage are down. He’s also down to 73.2% contact in the zone, compared with the major league average of 82.8%.
Maddon said he’s hoping after a day off Thursday that Ohtani will find his swing over the weekend at hitter-friendly Coors Field.
“Maybe that’d be a nice place for him to kind of get that stroke back a little bit,” Maddon said. “Just looking for him to get his better swing off on a more consistent basis.”
David Fletcher did not come off the injured list Thursday, the first day he was eligible. Fletcher, who is out with a sprained ankle, has been going through a full battery of drills.
Maddon said it’s possible that Fletcher could play as soon as Friday.
“He ran well,” Maddon said. “He’s obviously not 100 percent yet, but he’s getting closer to that. He’s just a little guarded, turning the bag or making the cut. But straightaway was not bad at all.
“Then there’s defense. That first move on defense, he still feels it a little bit.”
Justin Upton, who was hit in the left hand by a pitch Tuesday night, is “still sore.” Maddon said Upton planned to take as much batting practice as he could Thursday, and could be available to pinch hit. Maddon said he “might be a possibility” to start Friday.
Pitcher Ryan Buchter, who elected free agency rather than accept an assignment to the Angels alternate site, signed with the New York Yankees.