OAKLAND -- It’s always an event when two-way star Shohei Ohtani takes the mound, but it’s set to be extra special on Thursday, as he’ll be starting on Reopening Day for the Angels, who return to hosting games at full capacity for the first time since 2019.
The game, which will be aired exclusively on YouTube, is expected to be close to a sellout for the Angels, who were restricted to hosting crowds at 33 percent capacity until California changed its guidelines on Tuesday to allow full-capacity stadiums.
“It’s awesome, it’s wonderful,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “I hope it’s raucous and crowded and shoulder to shoulder. It would be wonderful to get back to those patterns. I’ve seen a couple of basketball games. Happened to watch the 76ers-Hawks game, and I’m a big Hawks fan and I saw that place roaring. It’s good on many different levels. I’m excited from a baseball perspective. When it’s loud, it’s definitely a home-field advantage.”
It’ll also be the 10th start of the season for Ohtani, who has posted a 2.85 ERA with 68 strikeouts, 28 walks and four homers in 47 1/3 innings. He's also batted .271/.350/.618 with 19 homers, 15 doubles, 10 stolen bases and 47 RBIs in 63 games as a designated hitter. In Wednesday's 8-4 loss to the A's, he launched his 19th homer into Oakland Coliseum's second deck in the second inning, then laid down a bunt single and swiped his 10th bag in the fifth.
The Angels still weren't sure after Wednesday's game if Ohtani would hit for himself on Thursday, but he said it's something he'd like to do, if possible. The Angels lose the DH when this happens, but his bat is too valuable to kept out of the lineup. They’ve also been creative, moving him to right field after four of his starts to get him an extra at-bat after he’s removed as a pitcher.
"We have some guys hurt, so I'm not sure what the situation will be tomorrow," Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. "I'll definitely be ready if Joe wants me to hit tomorrow. But I'm definitely excited for the full crowd."
Complicating things, however, is that third baseman Anthony Rendon is day to day with a right triceps strain, and if he’s not available as a pinch-hitter on Thursday, the Angels would have a short bench. It gives the Angels fewer pinch-hit options once Ohtani leaves the game, so it’s something Maddon will weigh.
“That’s been part of my morning consternation, just looking into tomorrow and what that would appear like,” Maddon said. “With a limited bench, it becomes problematic.”
Ohtani was also the leading vote-getter among American League designated hitters in the All-Star Game ballot update released on Monday, and Maddon said he wouldn’t rule out Ohtani pitching and hitting in the game. But it would depend on when he last pitched heading into the All-Star Game.
“It would be great, fine,” Maddon said. “It just depends on his day. It’s just an inning. And I know if he’s able to do it, I’d have no objections to it. His schedule has been great. The number of innings pitched, how many pitches he’s thrown, I think it's in pretty good order. I don't see a dramatic spike between now and then. It would just be how he feels, what he thinks about it."