Comfortable with cool, Ohtani starts today

April 14th, 2018

KANSAS CITY -- Japanese two-way phenom grew up in the rural town of Oshu, in the northern prefecture of Iwate, a region that becomes blanketed with snow during the winter. He played his first five professional seasons with the Nippon-Ham Fighters in Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost main island that's also renowned for its snow country.

Chilly conditions are nothing new for Ohtani. Pitching in them might be.

Ohtani is scheduled to make his third start on the mound of his rookie season against the Royals today, when temperatures are forecasted to reach a high of 38 degrees. Ohtani said he couldn't remember the last time he had pitched in that type of frigidity, as the Fighters play their home games at the Sapporo Dome.

"Hopefully, it's warm that day," Ohtani said via interpreter Ippei Mizuhara earlier this week. "But if not, I'm going to be prepared to pitch in that cold weather."

Angels manager Mike Scioscia said he doesn't believe the cold tilts the scales in favor of pitchers or hitters.

"You can probably argue both sides of it," Scioscia said. "You're always concerned with grip if you're a pitcher. As a hitter, if you don't hit the ball on the barrel, you're going to feel it a lot more than you would if it were 75 degrees out."

The elements won't be Ohtani's only test, as he'll be making his first career appearance against Kansas City and will look to become the first Angels pitcher to win each of his first three starts since Jered Weaver in 2006. He will make his third consecutive Sunday start, though Scioscia said that schedule could change in the future.

In his first two outings, both against the A's, Ohtani went 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA and 18 strikeouts over 13 innings. He carried a perfect game into the seventh inning in his most recent start against Oakland at Angel Stadium last Sunday.

The 23-year-old right-hander has averaged 97.1 mph on his fastball this season, the third-highest velocity among Major League starters in 2018. Only the Yankees' (97.7 mph) and the Mets' (97.6 mph) rank higher. Ohtani's splitter has also emerged as one of the most devastating wipeout pitches in baseball, inducing an eye-popping 70.3 percent whiff rate (26 whiffs on 37 swings) this season.

Ohtani does not hit on the days before or after he pitches, so he was not in the Angels' lineup against the Royals on Saturday. As a left-handed hitter, Ohtani is batting .367 (11-for-30) with five extra-base hits, including three home runs, and 11 RBIs.

"He's impressing a lot of people," Royals manager Ned Yost told reporters. "Could be interesting to see."