Opening Day Sho-time! Ohtani to pitch 1st

Two-way star to take mound for Angels' April 7 opener against Astros

March 25th, 2022

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani is set to earn yet another accolade, as he was named the Angels' Opening Day starting pitcher for the first time in his career on Friday.

Halos manager Joe Maddon made the announcement that Ohtani will start against the Astros on April 7 at Angel Stadium. He’ll also serve as the designated hitter and will be able to remain in the lineup even after he is removed from the game, as long as a proposed rule change is approved by all 30 clubs.

“I spoke to him, and he’s very excited about it,” Maddon said. “Typically, he handles things with very limited emotion. Of course, he’s happy about it. He’s earned the right to do that. We’re ready to rock and roll. It’s exciting for everybody. It’s the right thing to do, and I’m looking forward to a good result.”

Ohtani, the reigning American League MVP Award winner, is coming off an historic 2021 season in which he hit .257/.372/.592 with 46 homers, 26 doubles, eight triples, 26 stolen bases and 100 RBIs in 155 games. The 27-year-old also made 23 starts on the mound, going 9-2 with a 3.18 ERA and 156 strikeouts in 130 1/3 innings.

But in his true humble fashion, Ohtani joked with Maddon after hearing the news that he’d start on Opening Day.

"His response was, 'Well, if I have to,'" Maddon said with a smile. "He's self-deprecating. He's got that kind of sense of humor. He's a good one."

It was an easy decision for the Angels to go with Ohtani. He’s expected to be followed in the rotation by Patrick Sandoval, Noah Syndergaard, José Suarez, Michael Lorenzen and the winner of the sixth starter competition, in that order.

"Noah is coming in after having pitched very limitedly last year, and so this just tastes right, feels right and is right," Maddon said. "Shohei has earned the right to do this here. There really wasn't that much of a concern or discussion about the other names."

Ohtani’s next Spring Training start will come Saturday against the White Sox in Glendale, and his final Cactus League outing is expected to come on April 1 against the Reds at Tempe Diablo Stadium. He’s scheduled to be stretched out to at least 90 pitches by Opening Day. He’s also expected to be in the lineup at DH in nearly every game this season, including during his starts on the mound.

“It’ll go based on if he’s tired or not,” Maddon said. “I don’t think that changes. I don’t see why this year would be any different. It could even be easier this year because he won’t have to go play the outfield [to keep his bat in the lineup]. My expectation is to use the same method we employed last year.”

Maddon, though, is among those who believe Ohtani can be even better in '22 than he was in '21 -- as impossible as that sounds -- given that he’s at full health and heading into the year physically stronger than last season. Ohtani still had question marks heading into '21 after a down '20 season in which he threw only 1 2/3 innings on the mound before shutting it down with elbow/forearm soreness.

But Ohtani has now been through a full season as an elite two-way player and has a routine that he believes can keep him healthy and strong throughout the year. Ohtani’s pitching improved as the season went along because of better control, while his offense tailed off a bit at the end of the year because of a lack of protection in the lineup. But with fellow stars Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon also healthy, teams won’t be able to pitch around Ohtani, who could even serve as the club’s leadoff hitter to open the year.

“I just think, with good health, he’s going to continue to get better,” Maddon said. “He’s a young man and he learned a lot about himself last year. I would be satisfied with a repeat performance, quite frankly, but if he improved from that, I'll take it."