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The Los Angeles Angels have a difficult decision to make over the next few days: Will Shohei Ohtani make the Opening Day roster?

OK, so maybe it is an easy decision. After all, Ohtani has struggled on the mound and at the plate in his limited exposure in spring training games. In two spring starts, he allowed nine hits and nine runs in 2⅔ innings, flashing plus stuff but also struggling with his command and serving up three home runs. At the plate, he has gone 3-for-28 with nine strikeouts, three walks and no extra-base hits.

Much of his pitching work has come on the back fields, including an 85-pitch outing in an intrasquad game Saturday against Angels’ minor leaguers. While Angels manager Mike Scioscia called it a “great outing,” Ohtani threw 47 of the 85 pitches for strikes but walked five batters, hit another and threw two wild pitches. ESPN’s Jesse Rogers reported that Ohtani’s fastball was 92-94 mph, down from his previous outings. Through his interpreter, Ohtani said after the game that he was working on his splitter and breaking ball more than his fastball, which is probably why his velocity was down a bit. Hmm.

Maybe the Angels feel obligated to keep Ohtani on the major league roster. After all, they were handed a gift when Ohtani selected them over the other teams, and I doubt their sales pitch included Ohtani starting the season in Salt Lake City.
Shohei Ohtani has struggled this spring on the mound and at the plate. Masterpress/Getty Images
Still, the Angels have a long-term commitment to Ohtani and they need to do what’s best for his development and what’s best right now for the franchise. That means starting him in the minor leagues, where he can find his fastball command, have a few good outings and get at-bats without everyone focused on whether he’s going to be the Babe Ruth of Anaheim on March 29.

Saturday’s outing seemed like a possible harbinger of a minor league assignment. Using major league starters on the back fields for minor league games has become a trend in recent seasons, but this felt like a deliberate attempt to give Ohtani a low-pressure environment. The Angels needed him to get his pitch count up, so this also provided a controlled situation to do that. In a regular spring game, for example, if his pitch count in one inning got up to, say, 30, they would likely want to remove him and he’d have to finish throwing on the side. In a controlled scrimmage, you can end the “inning” at any point.

That’s sort of the point, however: The Angels couldn’t trust Ohtani to get through 85 pitches in a spring game, so that hardly makes him ready for a major league game. Scioscia may have called it a great outing, but clearly walking five batters — minor league batters — in six innings is a sign that he’s not ready to start on, say, April 2 against the Cleveland Indians in the Angels’ home opener. Those lights are a lot bigger than the ones on a back field in Tempe.

Ohtani said he’s ready. “I feel like I’ve done everything I can get to get ready for Opening Day and I felt like I’ve done everything 100 percent, but it’s hard. Every other year, even in Japan, I was never 100 percent on Opening Day, so it’s going to go gradually into the season. I think it’s going to be the same this time.”

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Asked when he’s pitching next, he responded, “Please ask Mike Scioscia.”

If that’s the case, it’s all the more reason for him to start in Triple-A. Remember, because of an ankle injury, he pitched just 25 innings in Japan last year. His command was lacking then as well, as he walked 19 batters. So some of this is probably just rust from a pitcher trying to find his 2016 form, when he posted a 1.86 ERA and fanned 174 batters in 140 innings.

The bat is another issue entirely. There’s a reason there hasn’t been a true two-way player since Ruth: It’s hard! The hitting side of the equation is going to be even more problematic to work out. How much patience will Scioscia have with him? He obviously needs at-bats to adjust to major league fastballs, but if he struggles at the plate from the onset, is Scioscia willing to give him 300 plate appearances? The Angels are a potential playoff team, and if Ohtani starts the season going 7-for-49 (or something similar to that) it will be easy for Scioscia to give those at-bats to Chris Carter or Luis Valbuena and keep Albert Pujols as the full-time DH.
Would a move to the minors make it easier for Shohei Ohtani to adjust? Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports

Of course, if the Angels do send him down, they’ll be accused of doing so simply to manipulate his service time, as the Atlanta Braves did with Ronald Acuna. There is enough evidence to justify the move, though. Ohtani seems aware that he may not make the Opening Day roster.

“Honestly, I don’t know how people up there are making decisions like that, what they think of me at this point,” he said Saturday. “I try not to worry about that. I’ve been having the same approach since my days in Japan. It’s not really up to me; it’s up to other people.”

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There is enormous pressure on this kid, with all the hype, the expectations, the throng of Japanese reporters following his every movement. He’s trying to do something no player has done at the major league level in 100 years, all while adapting to a new culture. There’s nothing wrong with easing him into that situation. He should start the season at Triple-A.

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TORONTO — Give Drake, the rapper and Toronto Raptors’ “global ambassador,” credit for being bold.

Give the Toronto Raptors’ terrific perimeter defense credit for making his prediction come true.

Addressing the Air Canada Centre crowd during an early timeout, Drake declared that the Houston Rockets’ impressive run was ending Friday night.

“By the look of it, tonight this win streak is over,” Drake hollered to the delight of the home crowd with the Raptors up nine points late in the first quarter, a lead that swelled to 19.
1:06
Harden goes off in the 4th, can’t keep streak aliveJames Harden tallied 12 of his 40 points in the fourth quarter, but DeMar DeRozan and the Raptors go on to win 108-105 to snap the streak at 17.
The Raptors made Drake look like Nostradamus and snapped Houston’s 17-game winning streak, the longest of the NBA season, by beating the Rockets at their own game en route to a 108-105 victory. It’s the longest single-season winning streak the Raptors have ever snapped, per the Elias Sports Bureau.

Toronto torched the Rockets from 3-point range (15-of-38) while consistently chasing Houston off the 3-point line. The Rockets, who launch from long range at historic rates, matched their season low in 3s made with nine. Houston attempted only 27 3s, its second-lowest total of the season.

A desperation jumper by James Harden from the midcourt logo — not far from where Drake spoke into a microphone a couple of hours earlier — caught nothing but air at the buzzer as the Raptors swept the season series between the teams currently atop the respective conference standings.

“I don’t even feel like we lost. Same swag,” Harden said, who scored 40 points on 15-of-22 shooting. “Ain’t nothing changed. One game.”
DeMar DeRozan said that James Harden, his 2009 draft classmate and fellow native of Southern California, should be this year’s MVP. John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY
The loss dropped the Rockets to 51-14, but the Golden State Warriors lost in Portland to drop to 51-15, and Houston holds the tiebreaker. The Raptors (48-17) hold a 2½-game lead over the Boston Celtics in the East.

Houston entered the night averaging 15.5 3s made and 42.4 3s attempted per game, both figures significantly higher than the NBA records set by last season’s Rockets.
0:22
Drake announces album dedicated to TorontoDrake takes the mic at halftime to let the Toronto faithful know that he will be dropping an album for the city.
Kyle Lowry, the Raptors’ All-Star point guard, almost made as many 3s as the entire Houston roster during his 30-point performance. Lowry was 7-of-9 from beyond the arc.

DeMar DeRozan, Lowry’s All-Star backcourt partner who finished with 23 points, hit the Raptors’ biggest shot. DeRozan drilled a baseline turnaround over Harden, his former AAU teammate, immediately after a Harden 3-pointer tied the score with a little more than two minutes left.

“They’ve been playing exceptionally well, so for us to come in here and protect home court was big,” said DeRozan, whose Raptors have a seven-game winning streak as they pack for Sunday’s road game at New York.
0:26
Lowry drains 3 over CapelaKyle Lowry finds space behind the arc and nails a 3-point bucket in the face of Clint Capela.
Chris Paul missed a rare Rockets open 3 from the right corner with 14.5 seconds left that would have given Houston the lead.

“Down the stretch, I’ve got to be better,” said Paul, who had dominated crunch time this season, scoring 56 points on 15-of-22 shooting in 51 clutch minutes before Friday. “We can’t depend on James to do everything and make all those shots that he did. That’s the thing I’m probably more frustrated about.”

The rest of the Rockets were much more focused on their poor start than the finish.

Drake’s taunting prediction came during the Rockets’ worst offensive first quarter of the season. Houston, by far the NBA’s best first-quarter team with an average margin of plus-4.8 points, was doubled up in the first dozen minutes in large part due to a terrific defensive performance by the Raptors.

Houston had its worst first-quarter scoring output (16 points) and field goal percentage (28.6 on 6-of-21 shooting). The Rockets didn’t make any 3-pointers in the first quarter, attempting only five shots from beyond the arc.

“From the jump, they played harder than we did, which is not acceptable for the level of basketball that we’re trying to play,” Rockets forward Trevor Ariza said. “We ended up picking it up, but it’s hard to play from behind. The lesson for us is that we have to come with that mentality from the jump, not when we get down 15 or 20. We have to come with that killer instinct from the jump.”
Added Harden: “Just came in too cool, too cool. Just had it easy. Felt like we could come back, which we did, but just got down 20 points. We can’t allow that to happen against any team.”

The Rockets finished the first half only 1-of-9 on 3s, an alarming statistic for a team that’s shattering records for long-range shooting. Houston was 1-of-12 from long range before Harden, whom DeRozan declared this season’s MVP earlier in the day, hit off-dribble triples on back-to-back possessions late in the third quarter to spark a 14-2 run that brought Houston back within striking distance.

“So be it,” said Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, whose teams wraps up a four-game road trip Sunday in Dallas. “We’ve got to go back and get another streak.”