It’s officially Sho Time in Anaheim, California, and for Angels fans. Native Japanese superstar, Shohei Ohtani, now in his fourth Major League season, has taken center stage to begin the 2021 season. In Game 4 of the season for the Angels, Ohtani made history by becoming the first pitcher to bat second in the lineup in 118 years. The Angels hope to use the 2018 Rookie of the Year as a two-way player this season, letting him start on the mound and hit at the top of the order. But will this experiment work?
I’m buying in on Angels manager Joe Maddon’s decision to implement this role for Ohtani. If game one of Sho Time was any indication, Ohtani can handle it. In just the first inning, he was showing every bit of potential. Even though it was only four games into the season, Ohtani let it loose on the first pitch he saw at the plate and promptly hit a home run at an exit velocity of 115.2 mph, the hardest-hit ball of the year, traveling 451 feet. Later, he threw the hardest pitch by a starting pitcher this season at 101.1 mph. Joe Maddon said it best when discussing how talented Ohtani is.
“That’s the complete baseball player — throws 100, hits it well over 100, hits it well over 400 feet. I mean that’s what we’ve been talking about. He just needed the opportunity to do it. …I think he felt liberated, he felt free. He was out there playing baseball,” Maddon said according to ESPN.
He may not have earned the win, but he had a solid outing before an error on a pickoff to first, a wild pitch, and an error on the throw down on a drop third strike tied the game. Ohtani still only allowed one earned run and two hits. That’ll do the job as a starting pitcher along with seven strikeouts. What won’t do the job is five walks, which he will have to reduce. A lot changes if he walked fewer batters. He threw 92 pitches through four and two-thirds innings; if he didn’t walk five batters, he probably could have lasted through five innings, maybe even six.
Of course, it’s only his first start of the season on the bump, there was going to be a little rust. The longer Ohtani can pitch throughout a game, the more successful this experiment will be. It means more at-bats for a solid big league hitter, fewer pinch-hitters that need to be used, and of course a more rested bullpen. It’s always important for pitchers to be efficient with how many pitches they throw, but it is even more critical for Ohtani and the Angels because of the role he serves.
Maddon by all indications has a lot of faith in Ohtani, and for an Angels club that is trying to return to the playoffs with Mike Trout, Ohtani’s two-way play will be essential. It’s no secret Ohtani is becoming a star in this league as he adds his name to the history books and his play will be an interesting watch throughout the season.