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Shohei Ohtani chooses Los Angeles Angels

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Shohei Ohtani chooses Los Angeles Angels

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Shohei Ohtani has decided he's on the side of the Angels.

The Japanese two-way star announced Friday he will sign with the Los Angeles Angels, ending the sweepstakes surrounding his move to the majors in a surprising destination.

Ohtani, who intends to be both a starting pitcher and an everyday power hitter, turned down interest from every other big-league club to join two-time MVP Mike Trout and slugger Albert Pujols with the Angels, who are coming off their second consecutive losing season and haven't won a playoff game since 2009.

The Angels' combination of a promising core and a beautiful West Coast location clearly appealed to the 23-year-old Ohtani, who has confounded baseball experts at almost every step of his move to North America as one of the most coveted free agents in years.

Ohtani and his agent, Nez Balelo, issued a statement Friday announcing the decision after meeting with several finalists for his services earlier in the week.

Balelo said the 2016 Japanese MVP "felt a true bond with the Angels. He sees this as the best environment to develop and reach the next level and attain his career goals."

After his unusual courtship, Ohtani will attempt to chart an even more unique career path as the majors' first regular two-way player in several decades. Ohtani already has drawn numerous comparisons to Babe Ruth, who excelled as a hitter and a pitcher early in his Hall of Fame career.

Ohtani is expected to be both a right-handed starting pitcher and a left-handed designated hitter for the Angels, who are expected to give him ample playing time in both roles.

Many baseball observers have long assumed Ohtani would choose a higher-profile franchise such as the Yankees or Dodgers, who would have both welcomed him into their rotation and lineup. He received serious attention from Seattle and Texas, who both could have given him more money than the Angels.

Ohtani listened to his suitors' final pitches in Los Angeles before choosing the Angels, who play about 28 miles from downtown LA in laid-back Orange County. Most of the Angels live in coastal Newport Beach and enjoy a comfortable, warm-weather lifestyle with ample big-market media attention, but without the withering scrutiny of other top destinations.

Yet Angels general manager Billy Eppler is very serious about winning, and he has spent several years scouting Ohtani, ever since his previous job with the Yankees.

"We are honored Shohei Ohtani has decided to join the Angels organization," the franchise said in a brief statement. "We felt a unique connectivity with him throughout the process and are excited he will become an Angel. This is a special time for Angels fans."

Ohtani has ample opportunity to fulfill his biggest ambitions with the Angels, who are in need of a top starting pitcher. They should also be able to fit him into their lineup when he isn't pitching: Pujols has largely been a designated hitter for the past two seasons, but the three-time NL MVP is expected to be healthy enough to play first base more frequently in 2018.

Ohtani's new teammates greeted the news joyously. Left fielder Justin Upton tweeted , "So pumped right now..."

Trout, who is getting married this weekend to his longtime girlfriend, simply sent out the emoji of two bugged-out eyes .

Ohtani's disappointed suitors included Rangers general manager Jon Daniels, who had hoped Ohtani would follow in the footsteps of Yu Darvish, their former Japanese ace, instead of going to one of their AL West rivals.

"We're disappointed we weren't Shohei Ohtani's choice, but wish him the best in Anaheim," Daniels said. "He impressed us on and off the field at every turn. However, had he asked our opinion, we would have suggested the National League."

Ohtani was coveted by every team because of his exceptional pitching talent and powerful bat, but also because he represents an extraordinary bargain due to baseball's rules around international players.

The Angels will have to pay the $20 million posting fee to Ohtani's previous club, the Nippon Ham Fighters, but Ohtani will not be paid a huge salary for the next three seasons. Ohtani, who will be under the Angels' contractual control for six years, will sign a minor league contract and can receive up to $2,315,000 in international bonus money from the Angels.

Ohtani likely could have received a deal worth more than $100 million if he had waited two years to move stateside, but Ohtani wasn't interested in delaying his progress for money.

Ohtani should get an immediate spot in the front of the rotation for the Angels, who have endured brutal injuries to their starting pitchers in recent years.

Los Angeles' ostensible ace is Garrett Richards, but he has been limited to 62 1/3 innings over the past two seasons. The rotation also currently includes Matt Shoemaker, Andrew Heaney and Tyler Skaggs, who have all dealt with major injury setbacks.

Ohtani was 3-2 with a 3.20 ERA this year while slowed by thigh and ankle injuries, but those numbers don't indicate the incredible potential seen in a pitcher whose fastball has been clocked above 100 mph. While he has occasionally struggled with control, Ohtani is widely thought to be a surefire big-league pitching prospect.

Scouts are more divided on Ohtani's ability to hit big-league pitching consistently, but the Angels intend to find out. He hit .332 in 65 games with eight homers and 31 RBIs last season, occasionally unleashing the tape-measure blasts that had teams salivating.

The Angels could ease Ohtani's transition to the majors by resting him on the days before and after he pitches, as he did in Japan. Los Angeles also has thought about trying a six-man starting rotation, which would allow Ohtani to have ample arm rest after pitching roughly once a week in Japan.

The Angels have missed the playoffs in seven of the last eight seasons, but Ohtani's arrival is only the latest in a series of big moves for Eppler, who is determined to build a World Series contender during the remaining three years on Trout's contract.

Shortly after the World Series ended, the Angels secured a five-year, $106 million deal with Upton, their late-season trade acquisition. The veteran slugger is an ideal solution after years of underperformance in left field for the club.

Earlier this week, Eppler bolstered his much-improved farm system by signing 17-year-old Venezuelan shortstop Kevin Maitan, a coveted prospect considered the best of 13 players recently taken away from the Atlanta Braves for violating international signing rules.

Arrieta exudes leadership, veteran savvy in pacing another Phillies’ win

Arrieta exudes leadership, veteran savvy in pacing another Phillies’ win

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Jake Arrieta prides himself on being a leader to this young Phillies’ pitching staff.

“More than anything, you want to lead by example,” he said. “Part of the mentorship and trying to help these guys progress is exactly that – going out there, having a plan, being prepared and executing. You can talk to guys until you’re blue in the face, but until you can go out there and put up results and show these guys that what you do in between starts really pays dividends, then guys really start to buy in.

“Actions speak louder than words. Any time you can put into motion what you’re trying to emphasize to these guys plays a huge role in their development. I don’t intend to be a preacher, but there’s a lot of things that I regard highly as a starting pitcher and I’m trying to emphasize to these guys and they’re grasping it and running with it.”

Arrieta provided a great example in how to grind when you don’t have your best stuff and how to minimize damage in tight situations in helping lead the Phillies to a 5-3 win over Arizona on Wednesday night (see first take).

Aaron Altherr’s three-run homer in the bottom of the sixth inning against Zack Greinke was the big blow for the Phillies, but also important was the way Arrieta kept everything together in the top of the fourth inning. A leadoff error, a single and two Arrieta walks pushed an Arizona run home and the bases were still loaded with no outs.

The 32-year-old former NL Cy Young winner heard a few boos – “Who likes a bases-loaded walk?” he said. “I would have booed, too.” – but he responded by getting two ground balls, one a neatly started double play by Maikel Franco, to get out of the inning and limit the damage.

“Tonight was one of those games where a young starting pitcher could give up six or seven runs,” Arrieta said. “That’s just kind of how it goes. Bases loaded no outs. A double in the gap, a walk, things escalate and before you know it you’re out of the game in the fifth. So being able to slow it down, take a deep breath, collect yourself, and then get focused on executing a pitch is really what I try and emphasize to all of these guys and if you’re able to do that more times than not you’ll be able to come out ahead.”

Arrieta battled his way through seven innings for his third straight quality start and the Phillies' 12th in 23 games as a staff. Only one of the three runs he allowed was earned as he pitched over errors by Franco, J.P. Crawford and Andrew Knapp.

“We have to defend the baseball better, everybody knows it,” manager Gabe Kapler said.

Arrieta picked up the defenders and Altherr picked up everybody when he clubbed a 2-1 slider into the shrubs in center field for a three-run homer. Grienke doubled up with his slider. Altherr was looking for it and exploded on it.

Why was he looking for that pitch?

“I’d rather not say,” Altherr said with a laugh. “I’ll keep my thoughts to myself on that one.”

Makes sense. Altherr will see Greinke again someday. In the meantime, the Phils are 15-8 and they will look to take the rubber match of the series on Thursday afternoon.

Phillies overcome 3 errors to take down Diamondbacks

Phillies overcome 3 errors to take down Diamondbacks

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This is what happens when you get good pitching. You keep the game close until one big hit can win it for you.

The Phillies have utilized this recipe a lot in the early stages of this season and they did it again Wednesday night. Jake Arrieta delivered the team’s 12th quality start in 23 games and Aaron Altherr provided the big hit the team needed in a 5-3 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Citizens Bank Park.

Altherr, a Phoenix-area native, smacked a three-run home run against Zack Greinke with one out in the bottom of the sixth inning to rescue the Phils from a one-run deficit and give them a two-run lead.

It was Altherr’s second difference-making hit in three games. His RBI single in the 11th inning lifted the Phils to a 3-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday.

Altherr got off to a slow start – he had just three hits in his first 39 at-bats – but he has seven hits and seven RBIs in his last seven games.

The win was the Phillies’ 14th in the last 18 games and it improved them to 15-8. It came against an Arizona club that entered with the second-best record in the majors and against a pitcher who had dominated the Phillies in recent seasons. In 11 previous starts against the Phillies, Greinke was 7-1 with a 2.56 ERA and a .194 opponents batting average.

Arizona is 16-7.

Arrieta went seven innings and pitched over some poor Phillies’ defense. The club made three errors, two of them in the infield (Maikel Franco and J.P. Crawford) to lead off innings. Both of those errors led to runs.

Arrieta held the D-backs to four hits. He walked two and struck out two. He has won each of his last three starts and all have been quality starts – six or more innings, three or fewer earned runs. His ERA in four starts is 1.82.

After Arrieta left, relievers Adam Morgan, Luis Garcia and Hector Neris closed out the Diamondbacks.

The two teams close out the series on Thursday afternoon with Ben Lively opposing right-hander Matt Koch. Arizona won the first game, 8-4, on Tuesday night.

Notes
• General manager Matt Klentak said right-hander Jerad Eickhoff was progressing well in his recovery from a strained lat muscle. “When he comes back to this team, he’s going to be back in the rotation,” Klentak said. “We need to get him stretched out. I think we’re looking at the later part of May. It could be sooner than that. Fortunately, right now we have five guys rolling through the rotation, doing pretty well. We can afford to do the right thing for Jerad and not rush him back.”

Relievers Pat Neshek and Mark Leiter Jr. are due back sometime in May, as well.