Double-duty Ohtani wows: ‘Dude’s a freak’

March 21st, 2021

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Two-way star is proving he can do just about anything on a baseball diamond now that he’s fully healthy.

He starred yet again in the Angels' 4-1 loss to the Padres on Sunday, going 2-for-2 with a walk as the club’s leadoff hitter, while also striking out five over four strong innings with a fastball that reached 101.9 mph. Ohtani has been incredible at the plate this spring, batting .636 (14-for-22) with a team-leading four homers, and his best showing on the mound came against a San Diego lineup loaded with regulars.

"I'm very excited to show what I can do,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “That’s why I came here back in 2018. I'm sure I disappointed a lot of people the last two years by being hurt. I am looking forward to showing everyone what I'm capable of."

Because it was a road game, Ohtani hit before he pitched, and he opened the game with a single to left off 2018 American League Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell. He gave up a leadoff triple in the bottom of the inning to Brian O’Grady, but retired the next three batters.

Ohtani’s best matchups came against fellow superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. Ohtani struck out Tatis on a 3-2 splitter in the first and faced him again with two on in the third. Ohtani reared back and unleashed a 101.9 mph fastball to Tatis in that at-bat before getting him to pop out to shortstop. Ohtani’s fastball ranged from 95-101 mph, and he also struck out regulars Wil Myers and Jurickson Profar.

“The dude’s a freak,” Snell said. “He throws 100, he can swing it, he’s good at going the other way. He’s just all around a great player on both ends, which is insanely hard to do. For him to pitch, hit and have an idea on both sides and be elite at both, that’s very impressive. You just hope to see him on the field and doing his thing as much as he can.”

Ohtani added that he didn’t feel additional fatigue despite being on the bases twice -- he was tagged out at second after coming off the bag in the fifth inning -- and he’d like to do it again in the regular season.

“I would love to do this during the season,” Ohtani said. “If I could get run support for myself, that will give me extra confidence on the mound to be more aggressive."

It was a rare occurrence for Ohtani to serve as both the leadoff hitter and starting pitcher in the same game, but it’s something he had done in Japan, including as the leadoff hitter while playing for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters on July 3, 2016. He homered in that game and threw eight shutout innings against the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.

It’s part of a new plan with Ohtani that calls for the Angels to be more aggressive with him, as he could hit for himself in the regular season as well. Ohtani had been out of the lineup for the last three days to get some rest, but he wanted to be in the lineup on Sunday. The Angels are allowing Ohtani to dictate when he’s available to serve as designated hitter.

"I wouldn't spring this [on] him at the last moment," Angels manager Joe Maddon said. "Like everything else that we've been talking about with him, I wanted his understanding in advance and his feelings. I wanted to talk it through and we did. We've been working toward this moment. He feels good about where he's at pitching-wise and, of course, with his swing. We just want to pop it out there and see what it looks like."

In the regular season, there is little precedent for a starting pitcher batting leadoff. The last to do so while staying on the mound for more than one inning was Jim Jones for the New York Giants in the second game of a doubleheader on Sept. 30, 1901. (Jones lost a five-inning complete game and went 0-for-4).

Since then, only two players have started on the mound and batted first: the Giants’ Al Dark (Sept. 27, 1953) and the Twins’ César Tovar (Sept. 22, 1968). But both were longtime position players making the only pitching appearances of their careers, with Tovar going on to play all nine positions that day against the A’s.

"It's not unusual," Maddon said. "Pitchers have hit in games for years and they're doing it again this year. The difference is that the pitcher is hitting first. It's an anomaly moment, only about that. I figured a lot would be made of it. I get it. But if he was in the National League, he would've had to play a position to hit [on non-pitching days.]"

The last time a pitcher hit for himself with designated-hitter rules in place was on June 30, 2016, when former Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner went 1-for-4 at the plate in an Interleague game against the A's in Oakland. In 2009, Andy Sonnanstine also had to bat third for the Rays because of a mistake on the lineup card. Otherwise, the last pitcher to bat with DH rules in place was Ken Brett in 1976.

Ohtani has actually batted leadoff just once in a regular-season game. He went 0-for-2 with two walks, a run scored and a strikeout on Sept. 2, 2020, against the Padres in an 11-4 loss.