Shohei Ohtani is a baseball player – not a Fabergé egg

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Ohtani pinch hitter

The Angels are being rightfully careful with their two-way star. But should he be allowed to play the outfield?

By Stu Matthews | @stumatthews11

DENVER – The Angels, if they wanted to change their name again, could call themselves the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of Extreme Caution.

Yes, Shohei Ohtani is a prized commodity. We know he’s not as hard as a sparkly diamond that you’re afraid to wear. He’s not a Haute Joaillerie from Chopard watch that you’re afraid to wear.

He’s not a 1962 Ferrari GTO that you’re afraid to drive because it might crash.

He’s not a Faberge egg you’re afraid to drop.

Shohei Ohtani is a baseball player and a damn good one. He’s strong and healthy. His job is to play baseball.

The Halos found themselves in an unexpected batting haze Tuesday at the hitters’ paradise of Coors Field. Ohtani, the baseball player, sat on the bench, probably bored as hell.

Ohtani had put on a pyrotechnic display of batting practice Tuesday afternoon, launching several balls into the upper tiers of Coors, including one that nearly reached the Jack Daniels Bar above the third deck in right.

That’s such an elevated spot in the Mile-High City that some spectators nearly pass out before even they get a shot of Jack as a reward.

"I’m glad I didn’t see that. That’s awesome." ~ Jon Gray, Colorado Rockies pitcher

"I’m glad I didn’t see that," said Colorado Rockies righty Jon Gray with admirable honesty. "That’s awesome."

Angels skipper Mike Scioscia paid off the Japanese star by relegating him to pinch-hitting duties only.

The Angels would muster only two hits against Gray, who despite being a nice guy, is not to be confused with Max Scherzer.

With his beard and long blond hair, Gray looks like a Harley rider or the lead guitarist for the alt-rock band The Scioscia Faces.

Let’s look at the failures in the No. 7 spot in Tuesday’s game. Journeyman Jabari Blash started in right field and went 0-for-2 with a strikeout.

In the third, Blash deflected a line drive from DJ LeMahieu to Mike Trout, who was unable to stop Tony Wolters from scoring the game’s first run. It was ruled a single for LeMahieu, but easily could have gone as an error in the scorebook.

Down 2-0 in the top of the seventh, Ohtani appeared off the bench, representing the tying run. He laced a would-be single that was stopped only by a smooth play by first baseman Ian Desmond.

So now Ohtani was out of the game, Chris Young replaced him in right field.

After a one-out single in the ninth, Angels folk hero Kole Calhoun came out of the dugout to pinch hit in the slump of his life.

Calhoun grounded into a 4-6-3 double play, ending the game. There were some desultory claps from Rockies’ fans, but the groans you heard were from the many Angels fans in attendance.

On Wednesday, Ohtani was on the bench again as the Angels took on the Rockies. Sure, Colorado starter Tyler Anderson was on the mound, but Ohtani has not shown he’s averse to facing lefties.

Again, the star from Iwate Prefecture, Japan, was "available to pinch hit."

Scioscia’s main change to kick-start his team’s sputtering engine was to swap infielders Ian Kinsler (.189) and Zack Cozart between the leadoff and No. 6 spots.

Just a thought, Mike: What about Shohei Ohtani in right field instead of Jabari Blash?

On the day Ohtani signed with Anaheim, general manager Billy Eppler said Ohtani would not play in the outfield this season. Period.

Ohtani played 62 games in the green pastures of Nippon Professional Baseball, handling 98 chances with only one error. He has the speed to chase down balls in the alleys, and of course, a gun of a throwing arm.

Check this out: In those 62 outfield games for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, Shohei Ohtani gunned down seven runners on the bases, including one at third base from the warning track ala Yasiel Puig.

This is not Jabari Blash out there, stumbling around in right field.

Wednesday’s game went a lot better for the boys in Angels greys.

Not only did Jaime Barria show he wants to stay in the big leagues by mowing down seven Rockies in 5.1 innings. But Scioscia’s strategy of swapping Kinsler and Cozart in the batting order worked too, as third baseman Cozart led the way from the top of the order.

The Angels (22-14) were ahead 1-0 when Cozart took Tyler Anderson deep on the way to leading the Halos’ top three hitters, followed by Trout and Justin Upton to a 7-for-14 day.

By the time Ohtani made his long-awaited appearance in the on-deck circle, pinch-hitting for relief nugget Justin Anderson, the Angels were up 7-0 courtesy of Kinsler’s RBI single.

Ohtani’s at-bat was beautifully worked. Facing former Angel Brooks Pounders (remember him?) Ohtani got ahead 3-1, before swinging under a high fastball that could have traveled a mile high had contact been made.

With the count full, Ohtani fouled one off, then made no mistake, rifling the next pitch up the middle for a single that Rockies shortstop Trevor Story couldn’t even see.

Rene Rivera knocked into a double play right after that, forcing Ohtani to slide into second. Well, that’s just a bit dangerous isn’t it?

But that’s baseball. And it leads me back to the original point – exactly how dangerous is this two-way stuff?

Let’s think of another big-name two-way player currently coming through the Tampa Bay Rays’ farm system.

Brendan McKay is the No. 25 prospect in the major leagues, and he’s the Rays’ No. 3 prospect too. The Rays are being similarly careful about his usage.

"It’s no secret that he’s doing both (pitching and hitting), so he has to juggle doing both," said Craig Albernaz, manager of the Class-A Bowling Green Hot Rods. "Basically what that takes is a lot of work."

But they are risking McKay The Hitter in a way that the Angels’ are not using Ohtani – the far better player. McKay plays first base for the Hot Rods. Sure, McKay is more at risk playing first base than Ohtani is sitting on the bench as an unused bat. But not by much.

"He knows what he’s doing out there," Albernaz said.

Baseball has inherent risks. ~ University of Louisville coach Dan McDonnell

Likewise, University of Louisville coach Dan McDonnell had no qualms playing McKay at first base while grooming the two-way star to become the fourth overall pick of last year’s MLB draft.

"If you look at Brendan the pitcher on one side and Brendan the hitter on the other side, they could almost have their own competition to see who’s better at that craft," McDonnell said. "Baseball has inherent risks."

The Angels will only face this Ohtani dilemma eight more times in 2018, when they must play in National League parks and lose the designated hitter again.

But these could very well be very important games, as the Halos should be fighting for only the second playoff appearance of the Mike Trout Era.

The first will be three games against the remnants of the shattered Dodgers at Chavez Ravine in July, just before the All-Star break.

If his arc carries on upward as it is, you can also expect Ohtani to be in Washington for the All-Star Game, where the AL manager AJ Hinch would almost certainly use him as a pitcher for a few innings.

August may be when the race gets really hot.

In mid-August, the Angels will travel to San Diego for a three-game set (known around this community as the Petco Park Takeover). They will play a pair at Chase Field in Arizona against a very good Diamondbacks team.

It sure would be nice to have Ohtani’s potent lumber in the lineup for some of those could-be-critical games.

On Eppler’s orders, Ohtani never worked out in the outfield during spring training for the Angels.

Maybe it’s time for him to get familiar with that outfielder’s glove that caddy/translator Ippei Mizuhara carries around with him.

And use it.

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