TEMPE, Ariz. – Shohei Ohtani didn’t quite dazzle in his spring pitching debut with the Los Angeles Angels.
Maybe things will change when he swings the bat for the first time in a Cactus League game.
The star two-way player from Japan had mixed results in his first big league mound appearance Saturday, when he allowed a home run and didn’t make it through his scheduled two innings in a 6-5 victory against the Milwaukee Brewers.
The 23-year-old right-hander threw some nice pitches, including a fastball clocked at 97 mph, and a curveball that came across at 69 mph.
But he also struggled with his fastball command in allowing two runs, one earned, and two hits in 1 1/3 innings. Keon Broxton tagged him for a home run leading off the second inning.
“Besides the results, I mean, I had a lot of fun out there, so I think it went all well,” Ohtani said through a translator.
He struck out two and walked one. He threw 31 pitches, 17 for strikes.
Ohtani didn’t hit – he wasn’t in manager Mike Scioscia’s batting order.
He’s been launching some long home runs in batting practice.
“I had a lot of fun out there today and obviously I’m excited to hit and pitch again, and I just want to keep on getting better and have good results from here on out,” he said.
Scioscia said Ohtani will hit early in the week, as the designated hitter.
“It was great to see him,” Scioscia said. “I think he did enough to where we certainly learned some things. He and Martin worked some things out and I think it will be a step forward next time for him. But to get him out there for the first time was great. He threw all his pitches. Some were really what we would expect him to be and some he just lost his release point on. But it’s a step forward, for sure.”
Paired with catcher Martin Maldonado, Ohtani started five of his seven batters with balls, including leadoff man Jonathan Villar, who worked the count to 3-1 before hitting a double that bounced over the fence in left-center. Ohtani struck out Nate Orf before walking Ji-Man Choi.
With Manny Pina batting, Ohtani threw a wild pitch and Maldonado threw the ball into center field for an error while trying to get Choi at second base, allowing Villar to score with an unearned run.
Ohtani allowed Broxton’s homer to left on a 1-1 count.
Ohtani, who spent five seasons with the Nippon Ham Fighters before signing with the Angels as an international free agent on Dec. 10, said he needs to locate his fastball better rather than leaving it over the plate, which is what happened against Villar and Broxton. He said he liked the movement on his forkball, but that his slider “didn’t look too well, so that’s something I need to work on for my next start.”
The Angels paid a $20 million posting fee to the Ham Fighters. Ohtani, who will be under the Angels’ contractual control for six years, signed 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 he wasn’t interested in delaying his progress for money.
“It’s still too early to tell but I think I’m taking the right step, going in the right direction,” he said. “It was just the first start so we’ll see from here.”
The Brewers were mostly impressed.
“I think he’s got great stuff,” Broxton said. “I only saw fastballs, but the off-speed I saw earlier looked like it was pretty good. … I think there’s definitely more there. He’s got a good arm; a nice and easy release. I hope it works out for him.”
Milwaukee’s Brett Phillips took a called third strike to end the first inning.
“He’s got a really live arm,” Phillips said. “His fastball, he might have to locate it a little better. It was coming out good but a little flat. Off-speed looked really good. He has a good chance to be really good.”
Phillips was intrigued by Ohtani’s two-way potential.
“If you can do it, more power to you. I hope he gets a chance because he proved in Japan that he can hit and pitch. Now he’s in the highest level and I hope he gets an opportunity to show if he can do it. He’s earned it. We’ll see if he gets that chance.”
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