First Ohtani show features homer, no pressure

Two-way Angels star keeping things loose under spotlight in introductory spring workout

February 15th, 2018

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The rapid clicking of the camera shutters went off in a frenzy as Shohei Ohtani walked out of the clubhouse tunnel on Wednesday. He gave a quick tip of the cap, flashed a small smile to the assembled crowd and then followed the rest of his teammates to the backfields at Tempe Diablo Stadium for his first official workout as an Angel, the lone pitcher with a bat bag slung over his shoulder.

Nearby, a handful of Japanese fans cheered and excitedly waved their flag. A horde of media members scurried up the stands and filed out of the main stadium to follow Ohtani as he made his way to the practice fields.

Angels' Spring Training information

The spotlight remained fixed on Ohtani for the rest of the day, even as he carried out ordinary Spring Training activities such as stretching, playing catch and taking pitchers' fielding practice in drizzly conditions. He remained on the field longer than most of the Angels pitchers, because his workout included a few rounds of batting practice with the catchers, where the 23-year-old received high-fives from teammates after launching a home run. General manager Billy Eppler, manager Mike Scioscia and owner Arte Moreno were among the Angels brass on hand to watch the show.

Ohtani said afterward that he's still adjusting to the American style of batting practice, in which sessions are shorter and pitchers throw from in front of the mound instead from on top of it.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

"I wasn't really used to today's style, so I wasn't able to perform at my fullest," Ohtani said via interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. "I'll have fun making some adjustments from here on out for the next few days."

More than 150 media members jammed into a conference room at the Marriott Buttes Resort to hear Ohtani make his first public comments since arriving at Spring Training. Though he isn't the first Japanese player to make the jump to the Majors, Ohtani's transition has drawn far more interest because he will attempt to both hit and pitch with the Angels, a feat no big leaguer has done proficiently since Babe Ruth.

"We've never had that type of player before in Japanese professional baseball," former Japanese baseball star and current TV Asahi commentator Tomonori Maeda said. "[Hideo] Nomo was a pioneer. Then there's Ichiro [Suzuki] and [Hideki] Matsui, but we never had a two-way player. I think there's a huge attention on Ohtani because there has never been a two-way player. In the five years he was in Japan, he was able to do something that nobody has ever been able to do."

Ohtani's interpreter praises himself

Despite the heightened interest, Ohtani said he isn't concerned about the pressure engendered by the unprecedented nature of his two-way endeavor.

"Honestly, since my days in Japan, I never really felt that pressure that everyone's been talking about around me," Ohtani said. "I just feel like I've got to go there, do my job and help the team win. That's my No. 1 goal is to help the team win."

Ohtani is scheduled to throw a bullpen on Thursday and will begin facing hitters in live batting practice over the weekend or early next week. Scioscia reiterated that the Angels do not plan on using Ohtani in the outfield, nor do they want him making head-first slides when he's running the bases. He will not be discouraged from using his plus-speed to steal bases, however.

"He's a special athlete," Scioscia said. "I want him to play baseball."

Ohtani has already begun the process of bonding with his teammates, which has included golf and pickup basketball games. He is also getting used to living alone for the first time, as he resided in team dormitories when he played for the Nippon-Ham Fighters in Japan.

"My room is really big," Ohtani said. "It's a three-bedroom apartment. I feel kind of lonely by myself in such a big place."

Still, Scioscia said he believes Ohtani has the disposition to make necessary adjustments both on and off the field.

"I think this guy is very well-grounded," Scioscia said. "I think he understands it. I think he's going to be fine. I think he's not going to be consumed with anything but getting himself ready on the field and then handling the other things afterward."