ANAHEIM, Calif. – Shohei Ohtani stood Tuesday night on the top step of the third-base dugout at Angel Stadium, his helmet raised over his head, the crowd standing and shouting and applauding. He’d been ordered there by Mike Trout. Andrelton Simmons shoved him gently.
So prodded, the shy 23-year-old abided his first home curtain call, moments after his first home run, two days after his first pitching victory, with about as much humility as can be wrung from such an event.
With two runners on base in the first inning, Ohtani flicked a 2-and-2 curveball into the bleachers in right-center field. Urged forward by fans who’d come in part to see the two-way curiosity, the ball carried 397 feet. It left Ohtani’s bat at 104.5 mph, or about 4.5 mph faster than his hardest fastball two days before. The last player to win a game as a pitcher and hit a first-inning home run within a two-day span? Babe Ruth on June 13-14, 1921.
After a puzzling spring training that led many to wonder if the talented and hyped Ohtani was big-league ready on either side of the ball, Ohtani had a hit in five at-bats as a designated hitter Thursday in Oakland, allowed three runs in an otherwise dominant six innings as a starting pitcher Sunday, and Tuesday batted eighth as designated hitter against the Cleveland Indians.
Against right-hander Josh Tomlin, Ohtani weathered a series of pitches on the plate’s inner half. The early scouting report is to pitch Ohtani inside. Tomlin’s sixth pitch was a curveball, inside and low. Ohtani drove it to the bleachers. Two innings later, Ohtani lined a cut-fastball into left field, off second baseman Jason Kipnis’ glove, for his second hit in two at-bats. He finished his night with a single to center in the eighth inning. Ohtani is, for the moment, in the early days of April, a .444 hitter.
He’d arrived from Japan with a reputation as a power hitter. For the Nippon Ham Fighters, he hit 22 home runs in 323 at-bats (and posted a 1.86 ERA) in 2016, his last fully healthy season. Outside of batting practice, where the power was – and continues to be – as easy as it is startling, Ohtani showed none of that heft in spring games. In an effort to reset his timing, he substituted a toe tap for his high leg kick in the hours before the regular season began.
While Tomlin was not at his best Tuesday night (he gave up four home runs in three innings), Ohtani was taking his first at-bats in five days. The lack of regular at-bats is among the challenges for Ohtani, attempting to become baseball’s first regular two-way player in nearly a century. He is scheduled to make his next pitching start Sunday afternoon at Angel Stadium.
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