Looks like Shohei is ready for HR Derby

June 19th, 2021

ANAHEIM -- It was only fitting that on the same day he announced he’s going to participate in the T-Mobile Home Run Derby that two-way sensation crushed his 20th and 21st homers of the year.

Ohtani, who will be the first Japanese-born player to participate in the event, became the third player to reach the 20-homer mark this season. Friday's showing, in an 11-3 Halos victory at Angel Stadium, was his first multihomer game of the season and the fourth of his career. It was Ohtani’s own personal Home Run Derby and now that he’s healthy this year, he expects these kinds of games from himself.

"I feel like this is something I should've been doing since my rookie year, but, obviously, injuries held me back,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “But I'm back on track and doing what I love to do, so it feels great."

His first homer came when he smacked a two-run blast off a 2-2 sinker from right-hander José Ureña as part of a five-run fifth for the Angels. Ohtani got all of it, as it was a laser with an exit velocity of 114.3 mph and went a projected 400 feet to right-center field.

And his second homer was a rocket to left-center off an 0-1 changeup from reliever Joe Jiménez in the eighth. It was also hammered, as it left the bat at 109 mph and went a projected 408 feet.

"His first one was like 15 feet off the ground,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “And that second one, that's a great spot, when he's hitting the ball like that to left-center, it means he's got his A-hack going on. It's wonderful to watch."

It marked the second time in his career he's reached 20 homers, as he hit 22 in 2018 when he was the American League Rookie of the Year. He became only the second Japanese-born player with multiple 20-homer campaigns, joining Hideki Matsui, who accomplished the feat five times. And he also joined Mike Trout (2014, '18), Troy Glaus (2000) and Don Baylor (1978, '79) as the only Angels with at least 20 homers and 10 stolen bases before the All-Star break.

“He hit a ball to the pull side, he hit a ball oppo,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “He's a very dynamic hitter. It's must-see-TV type. You can feel the intensity in the crowd. He's doing his thing. And he's a very talented player. And he's doing remarkable things on both sides of the ball at the highest level in the world."

Ohtani’s first blast was the second of three homers hit in the fifth inning for the Angels, as Luis Rengifo also hit a solo shot and Jared Walsh walloped a two-run blast. Ohtani was just one of several Angels hitters with a big night at the plate, as leadoff hitter Justin Upton also reached base safely four times while Taylor Ward doubled twice and had three RBIs.

Upton, who has had a resurgent season since being moved up to the leadoff spot, said he’s been in awe of what Ohtani has been doing and that it’s starting to feel routine.

"I hate to say it, but I'm not surprised,” Upton said. “The way he's swinging the bat, the way he prepares every day. Any time he makes contact, he's one of a few guys where it's going over the wall or off the wall. It's impressive to watch."

Ohtani now has four homers over his last four games and his multihomer effort came just a day after he limited the Tigers to one run over six innings on the mound. He has a 2.70 ERA with 73 strikeouts in 10 starts as a pitcher, while hitting .273 with 50 RBIs and a .991 OPS in 65 games at the plate.

Maddon said he hasn’t seen any signs of fatigue from Ohtani recently and credited Ohtani for communicating how he’s feeling daily with the help of Mizuhara.

"The communication is so clear, I know exactly how Shohei is feeling,” Maddon said. “I thought he looked really strong tonight. I didn't see anything diminished based on what he had done yesterday. We'll just continue on this path. He’s very strong, but you have to understand that what he’s doing is completely different. So you have to keep in contact with Shohei and Ippei to get a true feel of what’s going on.”