Shohei Ohtani eagerly bounces into the cage when it’s his turn during batting practice – and then puts on an impressive show knocking balls high and deep into the outfield seats.
Whether hitting or pitching for the Los Angeles Angels, the rookie two-way sensation is raring to go and already wants to play more.
“He always says he’s ready,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “But right now we’re definitely going to protect him as much as we can.”
While the 23-year-old from Japan has definitely lived up to the hype in the first two weeks of the season, the Angels are trying to do a balancing act in managing the workload for Ohtani, who appeared in eight of the first 13 games for the AL West leaders.
The right-handed pitcher with a fastball averaging about 99 mph, along with a nasty splitter and a biting slider, was 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA and 18 strikeouts over 13 innings while allowing only four hits in his two starts on the mound, both against Oakland. After retiring the final eight batters in his first start, he retired the first 19 in the next – that’s 27 consecutive outs, equal to a nine-inning perfect game.
In his first six games with an at-bat, the left-handed slugger hit .364 with three homers and eight RBIs.
“I talk to the medical staff every day and they try to see how I’m doing, my strength level, to see if I can play that day,” Ohtani said through his interpreter at the end of a three-game series in Texas. “It’s the beginning of the season so I think they are being pretty careful with me right now.
“But once the season gets tougher, the schedule gets tougher through the summer, hopefully I can make them want to play me more. I would like to play more,” he said. “But if not, that’s that it is. I have to follow what they say.”
Ohtani made his fifth start as the Angels designated hitter in the series finale at Texas on Wednesday, a night after grounding out in his first time as a pinch-hitter in the majors.
The Angels opened a four-game series Thursday night at Kansas City, where Ohtani is scheduled to be the starting pitcher for the finale – which would be his third consecutive Sunday on the mound. He didn’t play in the games before or after his first two pitching starts.
“It’s really trying to balance a little bit of a guy’s ability obviously to swing the bat, and balance that with the need for him to be ready to pitch,” Scioscia said. “The biggest thing is we will be flexible, so it’s not in concrete. We’ll check with him and see when he’s available and we’ll go from there.”
Ohtani has started three consecutive games only once so far – and he homered in each of those at home, a stretch that included a day off between series.
He was the first AL player to homer in three games in a row in the same season he started a game as a pitcher since Babe Ruth did it for the fifth time in 1930. The last player that had been the winning pitcher twice and hit three homers in his team’s first 10 games was Jim Shaw for the 1919 Washington Senators.
While the Angels took some infield before the Texas finale, Ohtani stood by the cage with a bat in his hand waiting for BP near where Scioscia was hitting fungo to some infielders. When the manager glanced back at one point, Ohtani flashed him a smile and a thumbs-up.
“His talent level is special. I have nobody to compare to. I’ve never played with a guy that can hit the ball the way he does, and throw 100 at the time,” Angels second baseman Ian Kinsler said. “His regimen is impressive, it’s very thought out. He knows what he’s coming to the ballpark to do that day, whether it’s on the offensive side of the ball or defensive side.”
Rangers reliever Chris Martin was teammates with Ohtani the past two seasons in Japan, where they had lockers by each other and shared an interpreter. Martin, who talked with him a couple of times this week, picked off Ohtani at first base in Wednesday’s game.
“Super humble,” Martin said, describing Ohtani as a teammate. “It’s just kind of crazy, all the fame that he gets, even over in Japan, and obviously over here now … I don’t even know if he was really even paying attention to it. He’s so focused on playing baseball and being the best he can be over here and just not worried about all the other stuff.”
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