Shohei Ohtani can't deliver with his bat in Angels' 2-1 loss to Yankees

Shohei Ohtani can't deliver with his bat in Angels' 2-1 loss to Yankees

The at-bat ended with a grounder to shortstop, a play about as ho-hum routine as baseball offers.

But nothing was ho hum or routine about Aroldis Chapman firing triple-digit fumes to the sport’s reigning phenomenon, Shohei Ohtani. Chapman was brought in for a four-out save and specifically to battle Ohtani, left-hander against left-hander, might against might.

“It was a big situation,” Ohtani said. “I really wanted to get a base hit. I wasn’t able to come through.”

It was one of the few moments the Angels rookie hasn’t seized in the past two months. Ohtani bounced out to end a near-mythical eighth-inning stare-down with Chapman in a game his team would lose to New York 2-1.

Ohtani stranded Justin Upton at second. It marked just the second time in nine at-bats with at least one runner in scoring position and two outs that Ohtani failed to produce a hit. Before meeting Chapman, his average during such circumstances was .875.

Of course, none of those previous eight at-bats had come against a pitcher throwing quite like this, Chapman’s final pitch to Ohtani reaching 101.9 mph. The slowest of the five fastballs he saw during the at-bat: 98.9.

“His pitches were really fast, really powerful,” said Ohtani, who fouled off one of Chapman’s fastballs deep down the left-field line. “Some of the contact I made I thought was pretty good contact.”

Angels reliever Jim Johnson surrendered a historic solo home run to Gleyber Torres in the seventh for the deciding run. Torres, 21, became the youngest American League player to ever homer in four consecutive games.

It was the first time Johnson had permitted a go-ahead home run in more than two years, or 136 appearances, according to the postgame notes.

The loss spoiled a fifth consecutive quality start by Andrew Heaney, who gave up one run and four hits in 6 1/3 innings. He was pulled after 97 pitches and just two batters before Torres homered.

Explaining that he was “just trying to be honest,” Heaney said afterward that he informed pitching coach Charles Nagy he was tiring before going out to start the seventh.

“I told Nags, ‘Hey, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit low in the gas tank, just mentally, physically,’ ” Heaney said. “Glad it ended that way and not with a hit or a homer.”

The game itself wouldn’t end without first presenting the epic Ohtani-Chapman showdown, one that capped Ohtani’s first official visit as a big-leaguer to Yankee Stadium and New York.

His pregame introduction and at-bats were greeted with predictable boos. Yankees fans not only were unhappy that he didn’t sign with New York, they also didn’t like Angels’ decision to not start him on the mound here Sunday.

That would have pitted Ohtani against fellow countryman Masahiro Tanaka, a pairing that has been anticipated since spring training.

Manager Mike Scioscia announced Thursday that Ohtani’s next mound appearance would be pushed back to manage his workload. Friday, Scioscia said Ohtani would pitch “sometime in the next week.”

Long before the game started, the New York Daily News published on its front page a photo of Ohtani with the screaming headline “What A Chicken! Japan star snubs Yanks, fears big city.”

A copy of the tabloid — the back-page headline announced “So It Ain’t Sho!” — found its way onto the chair in front of Ohtani’s locker.

“The newspaper, my interpreter (Ippei Mizuhara) brought it to me,” Ohtani said later, smiling. “I didn’t really want to see it, but I was kind of forced to.”

After grounding out in his final at-bat Friday, the headlines here might now turn even bolder.

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Angels' Rene Rivera out 4-6 weeks after knee surgery

Angels' Rene Rivera out 4-6 weeks after knee surgery

Houston Astros’ Jose Altuve, left, is tagged out by Los Angeles Angels catcher Rene Rivera during the eighth inning of a baseball game Tuesday, May 15, 2018, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

NEW YORK (AP) — Los Angeles Angels catcher Rene Rivera had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee and likely will be sidelined for 4-to-6 weeks.

Dr. Brian Schultz operated on Friday in Los Angeles following an MRI.

”It’s obviously a tough break for Rene right now, a tough break for us,” manager Mike Scioscia said.

A 10-year major league veteran, Rivera is hitting .259 with three homers and 10 RBIs in 59 plate appearances over 22 games as backup to Martin Maldonado. Rivera was placed on the 10-day disabled list May 20, a move retroactive to May 17.

The Angels said right-hander Matt Shoemaker had mild fluid in his pitching forearm, according to an MRI on Thursday in Los Angeles. He also was examined in St. Louis this week by Dr. Susan Mackinnon, who ruled out peripheral nerve involvement.

Shoemaker also had a bone scan. He made his only appearance of the season March 31 at Oakland, pitching 5 2/3 innings to beat the Athletics. He was moved to the 60-day disabled list on May 19.

More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball

Home Run Derby field could feature two-way star Shohei Ohtani

Home Run Derby field could feature two-way star Shohei Ohtani

It’s never too early to hype the Home Run Derby, the one part of the All-Star Game festivities that never fails to draw interest.

Aaron Judge’s performance last summer in Miami was everything Major League Baseball could ask for in the annual slugfest held the night before the game. The Yankees rookie hit 47 home runs to all fields of Marlins Park, including 16 with exit velocities of 115 mph or more. He became the first rookie to win outright and the second overall winner after Wally Joyner, a co-champ with Darryl Strawberry in 1986.

But Judge has opted to skip this year’s derby at Nationals Park in Washington, telling the New York Post: “There’s no reason to do it.”

So who will take the mantle from Judge?

Nationals star Bryce Harper, the National League home run leader with 15 heading into the weekend, is an obvious choice to compete in his home ballpark. American League leader Mookie Betts (16) and Mike Trout (15) are other obvious derby contestants.

But the one player everyone seemingly wants to see is Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani, who is listed on the All-Star ballot at designated hitter but also can be selected as a pitcher for the AL squad.

Ohtani, who won the Home Run Derby in Japan in 2016, said he would be “honored” to be considered.

It makes sense he didn’t want to lobby for a spot in the competition when he has only six home runs in 94 at-bats. Some sluggers might take offense to the idea that a guy with so few homers would think he deserves to participate, but the Angels are not using Ohtani at DH every day to accommodate his work as a starter.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia told reporters he was OK with Ohtani competing but added: “It always has been the prerogative of a player.”

As cool as it would be to watch Ohtani compete, it’s probably in the Angels’ best interests if he’s not asked. If Ohtani wears himself out trying to hit home runs and it affects his pitching, the Angels would be second-guessed forever for letting him do it.

But the bottom line for baseball is who will give ESPN the most eyeballs during the telecast, and the answer, at least for 2018, is the man they call “Sho Time.”

Down and out: Welington Castillo’s 80-game suspension for PED use was a shock to the White Sox organization. While everyone supported Castillo, some were not ready to make blanket apologies for him.

“Surprised,” catcher Omar Narvaez said. “He’s a grown man, and he makes his own decisions.”

White Sox starter Lucas Giolito agreed with Castillo’s own assessment that he let his teammates down.

“Yeah, I mean to go down for 80 games it definitely hurt the team,” Giolito said. “It’s unfortunate, but my hope is he can come back and help the club.”

Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who had the catcher last year, was curious about Castillo’s conscience while playing and knowing he was about to be suspended.

“I always wonder how guys play knowing that’s coming,” Showalter said. “I would have a hard time doing that.”

Showalter refused to get deep into the issue, though he said he had plenty of opinions on PED users.

“There’s no sport that has better and more stringent testing than ours,” he said. “They’re doing everything possible, and I applaud them. Believe me, we all have opinions.

“We could talk about it forever; we all do, let’s be frank. It’s just unfortunate. I have some real personal thoughts about it, but it doesn’t behoove me to weigh in on it. Someone actually might think it’s entertaining, and I don’t. I’m not happy about it (and) I know our pitchers aren’t.”

Wild and crazy guy: The Diamondbacks looked like a runaway winner in the NL West in early May, but things went south in a hurry. They began the weekend on a seven-game losing streak and had dropped to second place, a half-game behind the Rockies.

The biggest problem? The D’Backs were hitting .166 with 22 runs scored in their last 12 games heading into Friday’s affair in Oakland, going 1-11 in that span.

“We may pick the lineup out of a hat or something crazy,” manager Torey Lovullo told the Arizona Republic. “We might have some fun. I might turn some things around lineup-wise. We try to keep it loose here at the right times.”

Wow, that’s one crazy guy. Picking a lineup out of a hat is the oldest cliche in the book.

Lovullo also said he was considering turning batting practice into a home run derby to “distract” the team.

Obviously he’s a deep thinker.

Three up

Vladimir Guerrero Jr.: Son of Hall of Fame namesake and best hitting prospect in baseball is batting .427 with a 1.186 OPS in Double A.

Wade Davis: Former Cubs closer appears headed back to the All-Star Game with a league-leading 17 saves in 19 chances with the Rockies.

Andrelton Simmons: Angels shortstop not only has the best glove in the majors, he has struck out only 10 times in 178 at-bats, lowest among players with 200-plus plate appearances.

Three down

Matt Moore: Hitters are batting a major-league-high .341 against the Rangers lefty. Moore’s 2.02 WHIP is tied for the worst.

Welington Castillo: White Sox catcher joins Robinson Cano on the PED suspension list, though the PEDs obviously didn’t help his slugging percentage of .466.

Chris Davis: Orioles slugger not only has the worst WAR — minus-1.4 — in the majors, but Orioles television analyst Jim Palmer questioned his work ethic.

The list

Pitches per plate appearance (through Thursday)

Matt Davidson, White Sox: 4.58

Matt Carpenter, Cardinals: 4.47

Daniel Robertson, Rays: 4.45

Cesar Hernandez, Phillies: 4.43

Jose Ramirez, Indians: 4.41

Fact check

Astros pitchers, led by starters Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, allowed 128 runs in their first 51 games, the lowest total at that point in the live-ball era — since 1920. The 1968 Indians had the record, led by starters Luis Tiant and Sam McDowell, who allowed 130 runs in 51 games.

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Sullivan: White Sox’s reaction to Welington Castillo’s suspension? It’s complicated »

Theo Epstein shoots down trade rumors involving Cubs »

Sullivan: Could the Cubs go an entire season without a complete game? »

Shohei Ohtani at All-Star Game and Home Run Derby? Yes, please.

Shohei Ohtani at All-Star Game and Home Run Derby? Yes, please.

Such is Shohei Ohtani’s talent, allure and stature within the sport of baseball that getting only half of him constitutes a massive letdown. Or at least that was the takeaway from the Los Angeles Angels‘ decision to skip his scheduled start on the mound Sunday at Yankee Stadium, where he would have opposed his countryman, New York Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, on the biggest stage Ohtani has graced on these shores.

Instead, the expected sellout crowd will have to settle, most likely, for Ohtani — the brilliant, two-way rookie sensation who is redefining the sport — facing Tanaka as the Angels’ designated hitter.

“A shame,” read a headline Friday in the New York Daily News about Ohtani’s scratched start. “MLB loses,” said the New York Post.

But we are at a point in the season, roughly two months in, where it is reasonable to start dreaming about an even bigger potential showcase for Ohtani: the one that will take place a little more than seven weeks from now at Nationals Park. We are speaking, of course, about the 89th Major League Baseball All-Star Game, on July 17 — or 12 days after Ohtani’s 24th birthday.

And we are speaking, as well, about the Home Run Derby the night before the midsummer classic.

Both nights would only be enhanced by the presence of the player who to this point has been the biggest story in the game.

On June 1, this year’s All-Star ballots will be released online (paper ballots are a relic of the past), and Ohtani will be listed among the choices for the American League‘s DH. Although his competition for the starting spot will be stout — expected to include, among others, Boston’s J.D. Martinez and New York’s Giancarlo Stanton — Ohtani’s global popularity and domestic fascination may be enough to push him over the top.

And if not, it seems almost certain he would be picked for the 32-man AL roster one way or another, through one of the various, convoluted means by which pitchers and reserves are selected. But the question is: Would Ohtani make the team as a hitter, or a pitcher — or both?

The Angels’ ultraconservative deployment of Ohtani — he generally pitches just once and serves as DH three to four times per week, and Sunday’s scratched outing on the mound was characterized by the team as a “workload” issue — means he has amassed neither the required plate appearances nor innings pitched to qualify for the batting or ERA titles.

But in somewhat limited action, he has been as good as, if not better than, advertised – which is saying something, considering he was advertised, at least in the American media, as nothing less than “the Babe Ruth of Japan” when he signed with the Angels in December.

Ohtani’s OPS of .991 entering the weekend ranked eighth in the AL among hitters with at least 100 plate appearances, while his 170 OPS+ — adjusted for ballpark and league effects, with 100 representing league-average — ranked fourth, behind only Boston’s Mookie Betts, Angels teammate Mike Trout and Baltimore Orioles shortstop Manny Machado.

As a pitcher, his ERA of 3.35 ranked just 20th in the AL entering the weekend (minimum 40 IP), but his strikeout rate of 32.3 percent of all batters faced ranked fourth behind only Houston’s Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander and Boston’s Chris Sale, and his opponents’ OPS of .597 ranked 10th.

It seems safe to say, given his remarkable two-way performance and MLB’s own hand in selecting roster reserves for the game, that Ohtani will be picked for the AL roster in some fashion. (The guess here is that, given the Angels’ caution regarding his pitching usage, Ohtani, regardless of how he makes the team, would only hit in the game, and would not appear on the mound.)

“What he’s doing is extraordinary,” MLB spokesman Mike Teevan said. “And if the All-Star Game becomes in part a celebration of what he’s brought to the game, we would be thrilled with that.”

And if Ohtani receives — and accepts — an All-Star roster spot, there will be enormous pressure on him to participate in the Home Run Derby on July 16, the night before the game itself.

While Ohtani’s six homers this season entering Friday left him 10 behind Betts for the major-league lead, his rate of one homer every 15.7 at-bats was better than that of — among others — Stanton (16.6), who led the majors last year with 59.

Ohtani won the home run derby at Japan’s all-star game in 2016, and his batting-practice sessions here have become must-see theater for opposing players, coaches, executives and media members — with one of his blasts last week in Anaheim striking the video board in right field at Angel Stadium, an estimated distance of 519 feet. His longest homer in a game this year, according to Statcast data, traveled 450 feet, tied for the 27th-longest in the majors.

Just imagine Ohtani in the derby, before a packed stadium and a worldwide television audience, with the U.S. Capitol dome sitting in the background, taking aim at the Red Porch in Nationals Park’s center field, or at the upper deck in right. And just imagine an Ohtani/Bryce Harper final-round matchup – and you can understand why MLB is salivating at the possibility.

Some players, believing participation in the derby can have a detrimental effect on one’s swing, have balked at the opportunity in the past — including Ohtani’s teammate Trout, who has never appeared despite being asked annually. The defending champion, Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge, has said he will not participate this year, after falling into a vicious slump almost immediately after his 2017 victory.

When asked by reporters this week about Ohtani’s potential participation in the Derby, Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, “That’s a player’s decision. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of [factors] that come into what a player decides, but it’s always been the prerogative of a player if he wants to participate in something like that.”

Ohtani himself said only, “I’m honored to be in that conversation.”

The Ohtani show is always worth the price of admission, whether he’s on the mound, at the plate or merely in a batting cage whacking 65-mph fastballs thrown by a coach.

And with the Angels not on the Nationals’ schedule this season, Washington has only one chance to see him. It is a spectacle that needs to happen, and if Ohtani is going to come all this way for one or two at-bats on a Tuesday night in mid-July, he might as well come a day early and get in some extra cuts on a Monday night as well.

Mike Trout's Brilliance Complicates Bryce Harper's Quest For $400 Million Contract

Mike Trout's Brilliance Complicates Bryce Harper's Quest For $400 Million Contract

Memorial Day weekend has finally arrived and there are already several developing story lines across Major League Baseball which will make for a summer of intrigue and excitement. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox’s daily offensive explosions are not only awe inspiring but are potentially setting the stage for another epic postseason match up between the two juggernauts. Justin Verlander is amid a career renaissance with the world champion Houston Astros while Max Scherzer is once again overpowering hitters and is aggressively chasing his third consecutive National League Cy Young Award and fourth overall. Free agent to be Manny Machado is highly coveted on the trade market as the Baltimore Orioles have spiraled out of control and into the basement of the American League East. Shohei Ohtani has surprised nearly everyone after an inauspicious spring training and has become a two-way marvel who has drawn comparisons to the Sultan of Swat himself, Babe Ruth.

Baseball’s most alluring conversations heading into the summer months involve Bryce Harper and his upcoming free agency at the end of the season. It’s a recipe filled with enticing ingredients: a 26-year-old phenomenon of rare talent approaching the prime years of an already exceptional career, a masterful agent (Scott Boras) who has been eagerly preparing for this moment since Harper was the first overall pick of the Washington Nationals in 2010, and an arsenal of data that will undoubtedly place Harper in the rarefied atmosphere of the greatest offensive ball players that have ever played the game of baseball. It’s safe to say that a decade long contract around $400 million will be mentioned once or twice by Boras with great conviction. Expect Boras to meticulously craft a superlative narrative accompanied by a leather-bound book filled with statistical projections, performance comparisons, leadership qualities, marketing opportunities, and Harper’s rank among the greatest offensive ball players.

Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper wears glasses to bat – Nationals Park, Saturday, May 19, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The usual suitors are already rumored to be potential destinations for Harper’s services. New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, and Boston are baseball markets of great attraction for obvious reasons, but this past off season we have learned valuable lessons regarding the complexities of the current collective bargaining agreement. Besides the obvious impediments of the Competitive Balance Tax for ball clubs who would likely be interested in Harper’s services, we have also been introduced to concepts such as “Surcharge Thresholds” and penalties affecting the Rule 4 Draft as well as reductions in funds for international signing bonus pools. Therefore, Harper’s suitors must either be willing to accept the extraordinary financial repercussions that go well beyond a record setting contract or they must seriously reconfigure their current rosters to accommodate Harper’s expected contract demands.

Harper’s upcoming free agency poses legitimate questions that go well beyond what uniform he will be wearing in 2019. It’s fair to ask what makes Harper so special and does he deserve to be baseball’s first $400 million ball player. However, the most intriguing questions pertain to comparisons regarding Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout. Is Harper truly deserving of a contract that dwarfs Trout’s current six-year, $144.5 million contract (2015-2020)? If you had to choose either Harper or Trout to be your cornerstone ball player for the next decade, who would it be and why?

Harper and Trout are both maximum effort ball players who play with a passion that occasionally borders on reckless abandon. There is a grit and intensity both ball players regularly demonstrate much to the pleasure of adoring fans. As Trout has become the darling of the analytics community, Harper has rightfully established his reputation as someone who consistently plays as if his hair is on fire. Both ball players are not only major gate attractions, but prominent faces that are essential to baseball’s connection to youth participation and overall interest in the sport.

Harper has unquestionably lived up to the hype that has accompanied him for most of his teenage years. The combination of gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 16-year old baseball prodigy in 2009 and the YouTube videos which captured his astonishing displays of raw power catapulted Harper into the national sports consciousness and he has never left. Harper has successfully straddled the thin line between confidence and arrogance and has occasionally crossed it without apology. He is authentic in every sense of the word and deeply devoted to his craft.

Harper and Trout are inextricably tied together in an equivalent manner to Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams as well as Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. Sometimes, it simply comes down to personal preference. However, comparisons can be tricky and somewhat unfair depending on your point of view during contract negotiations.

Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout enjoys a laugh during warm ups before a baseball game in Anaheim, Calif., Thursday, May 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)