A showdown between a pair of two-way players tipped in favor of Shohei Ohtani, who slugged two solo homers during the Angels’ game with the Reds on Monday.
Ohtani launched the homers off of right-hander Michael Lorenzen, the Reds’ former first-round Draft pick who has contributed heavily over time on the mound and in the outfield.
Ohtani, perhaps taking advantage of the wind blowing out at Tempe Diablo Stadium, launched the first of his two opposite-field homers in the first frame, tying the game at 1. The second traveled a little farther than the first, landing in the berm in left-center.
“That first home run he hit, I thought it was an Arizona home run and me and [catcher] Tucker [Barnhart] looked at each other and started laughing,” Lorenzen said. “I looked in at [pitching coach Derek Johnson] and he just said, 'Ah, forget about it.'
“But the second one, I think made up for the first one because it went about twice as far. Man, he's impressive.”
Ohtani said that he was encouraged by his progress this spring, including his ability to use all fields at this point.
“The first home run, I didn’t really put a good swing on it and the ball just tapped the bat and still made it over the fence,” Ohtani said via interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “I think that’s a good sign.”
Ohtani’s two homers off of Lorenzen raised his spring average to .563 (9-for-16). He has three homers and five RBIs. In two starts on the mound -- spanning four innings -- Ohtani has recorded nine of his 12 outs via strikeout.
“I’m throwing right now and it feels really natural for me to step in [the batter’s box] after throwing,” Ohtani said. “Right now I’m seeing the ball really well and feeling good at the plate.”
Angels manager Joe Maddon also noticed an improvement in Ohtani’s comfort level in the batter’s box.
“You remember last year, [he was] spinning off a lot of pitches, not really seeing the ball [all] the way in,” Maddon said. “I don't think I've seen that one time out of him. He's in a better spot in the box -- balance-wise, hands-wise, seeing the ball. There's no reason to believe that this will not continue, what you're seeing right now.”
Two-way players don’t come along very often, let alone in the same game. Lorenzen has been in the big leagues longer, but his penchant to play both sides of the game has received considerably less attention than Ohtani, whose every move has been dissected since he signed with the Angels prior to the 2018 season.
Spring Training provides the perfect setting to capture such oddities. It’s fun for the fans, and also, apparently, for the players themselves. As it turns out, Lorenzen is a fan of the hitter who took him deep twice.
“I've always said he's the real deal. I've always said it from day one,” Lorenzen said of Ohtani. “I love what he's doing. I think he should continue to do both and do exactly what he's doing because that's what the Angels promised that they would allow him to do. I want him to be really successful. It's fun to watch, man. If I have to pick a favorite player, it's him.”
If anyone knows how hard it is to be a two-way player, it’s Lorenzen. Since 2015, he’s has appeared in 268 games for the Reds as a pitcher (26 starts), and he’s appeared 33 times in the outfield, mostly as a center fielder. He’s also a part of history: In September 2019, Lorenzen became the first player to earn the win, hit a home run and play in the field in the same game since Babe Ruth in 1921.