PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Angels were hopeful the introduction of the designated hitter in both leagues would include a rule change that would allow two-way star Shohei Ohtani to remain in the lineup after he exits his starts on the mound.
Apparently, that’s happening. MLB and the MLBPA reached an agreement on several rule changes on Tuesday, including the introduction of what is being dubbed as the "Shohei Ohtani rule." The agreement is pending approval by the owners of the 30 MLB clubs and was first reported by the New York Post.
The new rule allows any pitcher who serves as the designated hitter in a game to remain in the lineup even after coming out of the game as a pitcher. Last year, the Angels had to forfeit the DH to get Ohtani in the lineup in games he pitched, and they had to use pinch-hitters to replace Ohtani once he left his starts. Ohtani, the reigning American League MVP, hit for himself as the pitcher in 20 starts last year.
“It’s wonderful news for us,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “Obviously, you can make the argument he might be the only guy who actually gets to utilize that with any kind of consistency. But it’s deserved based on what he’s able to do. He’s a true two-way player. It just makes sense. Part of it is the allure of him and the fans in the ballpark."
The rule change would last through the new five-year CBA. So while it helps the Angels in the short term, it could help others down the road. Ohtani is set to be a free agent after the 2023 season, and if he joins another club, it would reap the benefits of the rule change, which was also utilized during last year’s All-Star Game to allow Ohtani to stay in the lineup after his start. The rule change also would encourage more two-way players in the future.
But for now, the rule is beneficial for the Angels and should get Ohtani roughly 40 to 50 more at-bats this season than he had last year. Ohtani, 27, batted .257/.372/.592 with 46 homers, 26 doubles, eight triples, 26 stolen bases and 100 RBIs in 155 games last year. He also made 23 starts on the mound, going 9-2 with a 3.18 ERA and 156 strikeouts in 130 1/3 innings.
“Whatever keeps Ohtani in the game hitting longer makes me happy,” Angels first baseman Jared Walsh said. “I want that guy hitting in as many chances as he can. That’s what we all want to see. I know it’s not maybe conventional but like -- we play to win, but we also play for the fans. I think the fans would rather see Shohei hit than probably anybody else in baseball right now. So I love it.”
The new rule also likely means Ohtani’s days in the outfield are over. He saw action in the corner outfield in seven games last season following starts on the mound in an effort to keep his bat in the lineup. Ohtani, though, never saw a ball hit to him during his time in the outfield last year. And now the Angels won’t need to move Ohtani to a different position after he comes out of the game as a starting pitcher.
“It makes the game a lot easier to plan and plot out,” Maddon said. “We don't have to [put him in the outfield]. That was just precipitated by National League rules, and now, there's no such thing. There was no mechanism in place to do this and so we had to create a mechanism."
It also helps the Angels in case Ohtani has a short start. Under the old rules, they would have to use a pinch-hitter every time Ohtani’s spot in the order came up after he exited his outing. The Halos can now either leave Ohtani in the lineup or replace him with a player who becomes the designated hitter.
“You don’t have to pinch-hit,” Maddon said. “It becomes a position. It’s just like a shortstop or whatever. It’s just a position. The main difference is there’s no pitcher in this lineup.”