With Ohtani Rule approved, Shohei pleased after two-way showing

April 1st, 2022

PHOENIX -- It was a Cactus League start that saw two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani go 1-for-3 with an RBI as the Angels’ leadoff hitter and strike out four and reach as high as 99 mph with his cutter as a pitcher. And it even had NFL superstar J.J. Watt in attendance cheering on Ohtani at American Family Fields of Phoenix.

But for Ohtani, he was just happy to reach his pitch count of 65 pitches over 3 1/3 innings in the Angels' 10-5 win over the Brewers on Thursday. Ohtani, the reigning American League MVP, gave up three runs (two earned) on two hits and three walks, but was otherwise pleased with the way he threw in his final tuneup before his first career Opening Day start on April 7 against the Astros at Angel Stadium.

"It was my last start before the season opener and I'm glad I got to my pitch count," Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. "Everything is going really smooth. I'll definitely throw a bullpen [before Opening Day], but the biggest thing is just getting my recovery and fatigue out of the way. I'll try to play in as many games as possible in between, get some at-bats and try to balance that out."

Ohtani played both ways on the same day that Major League Baseball announced the introduction of a new rule that will allow him to remain in the lineup as the designated hitter even after he exits as a starting pitcher. Last year, Ohtani had to be pinch-hit for after he left his outings and even moved to the outfield seven times in an effort to keep his bat in the lineup.

Because of the new rule, Ohtani is expected to get roughly 30-to-40 more plate appearances compared to last year. He’ll serve as leadoff hitter in his start on Opening Day and is expected to be built up to 85-90 pitches on the mound.

"That rule is going to be great,” Ohtani said. “I can be aggressive both hitting-and pitching-wise. I don't have to really think about later on in the game. It's a good thing."

After a long top of the first in which the Angels scored two runs on the Brewers, Ohtani surrendered two runs in the bottom of the inning. He was hurt by a hard-hit grounder from Kolten Wong that got past second baseman Jack Mayfield for a leadoff single, a walk to Lorenzo Cain and then a two-run double down the left-field line by Willy Adames with two outs.

Ohtani, though, settled down with consecutive 1-2-3 innings in the second and third. He ran into trouble in the fourth after walking Andrew McCutchen and again wasn't helped by Mayfield, who made an error on a grounder from Rowdy Tellez that could've been an inning-ending double play. Ohtani still looked sharp, however, as he threw a 99-mph cutter for a swinging strike against Hunter Renfroe, only to walk him to end his outing with one out in the fourth.

“The difference between last year and the year before is we’re seeing a lot of 95-plus fastballs,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s really working on his arm shape to the point where I don’t think he wants anybody to see that 92-93 mph cookie anymore. He had a really good fastball, and I think he hung his split against Adames. Otherwise, really good stuff.”

Ohtani is expected to get more at-bats before Opening Day, as the Angels still have two Cactus League games before their three-game Freeway Series against the Dodgers that begins on Sunday at Angel Stadium. He’s excited for the start of the season and knows all eyes will be on him this year as he tries to deliver an encore showing. That being said, Ohtani isn’t putting any extra pressure on himself as he believes he has the right routine in place to have another stellar year as a two-way performer.

“I'm sure the expectations are higher this year than last time,” Ohtani said. “But I'm just trying to meet those expectations. That's what I'm shooting for."