by Stu Matthews, Angels Nation managing editor
Angels starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani headed to the mound with a dirty uniform Sunday to face the San Diego Padres in the bottom of the first inning.
Well, Ohtani — the Halos’ phenomenal two-way star — was also a batter for the first time as an Angel in a game he also pitched.
So he took the hill with a swash of brown infield dirt on his right calf from sliding into second base while being forced out on Anthony Rendon’s inning-ending grounder to shortstop.
Ohtani batting and pitching in the same game is an experiment now, but it’s an experiment that makes a ton of sense and one Angels manager Joe Maddon hopes will work.
In an interleague game, under NL rules, it would make sense for Ohtani to hit in a game he pitches if he’s capable because the player is elite at both sides of the game.
Seeing the lineup flashing across Twitter before the game almost looked unreal: “Los Angeles Angels, batting 1st, Ohtani, p.”
A pitcher hasn’t led off a game since Jim Jones of the New York Giants in 1901.
“We just wanted to pop this out there and see what it would look like,” Maddon said.
It looked great. It looked natural. It was rare, it was real, and as only Ohtani can make it, it was great fun to watch.
“I would love to do this during the season,” Ohtani said afterward through his interpreter. “If I could get run support for myself, that will give me extra confidence ont the mound to be more aggressive.”
Makes sense. Go for it.
Ohtani led off the game against left-hander Blake Snell, the 2018 AL Cy Young winner, by lacing a opposite line-drive single on an 0-1 pitch and racing out of the batters’ box with his helmet flying off.
But he got stranded there after Snell struck out David Fletcher and Mike Trout and got Rendon to ground to short.
In the bottom of the first, Ohtani took the mound and gave up a seeing-eye triple to Brian O’Grady, who ripped a flat slider down the right-field line. O’Grady would score when he came across on a grounder to short.
But the highlight was Ohtani striking out San Diego hyperstar Fernando Tatis Jr on a 3-2 count on a wicked splitter that Tatis feebly swung over.
In his next turn to the mound in the second, Ohtani set down the Padres 1-2-3, and struck out dangerous Wil Myers on 87-mph splitter.
Then it was back to the basepaths and off to the races for Ohtani in the third. With one out, Ohtani drew a walk then dashed to third base when O’Grady misplayed Fletcher’s drive to center for an error. Once again, Ohtani was stranded however after Rendon popped out and Justin Upton grounded out to end the inning.
Ohtani pitched himself into trouble (a pair of questionable walk calls) and out of trouble in the bottom of the third. A walk to Jake Cronenworth loaded the bases, but Ohtani got out of the inning by striking out Jurickson Profar on an 83-mph curveball that froze him in the box.
He was slated by Maddon to pitch four innings on Sunday and Ohtani did — setting the Padres down in order again and capping his afternoon on the mound with a punchout of Victor Caratini with a fastball across the outside corner — all three strikes of the called variety.
Ohtani’s afternoon wasn’t over, though. He got a third at-bat, and drove a gapper off the wall. He would have had a double, but he was called out after beating the throw and oversliding second base.
Blake Snell became a big believer in Shohei Ohtani on Sunday.
“The dude’s a freak,” Snell said. “He throws 100, he can swing it, he’s good at going the other way. He’s just an all-around great player on both ends, which is insanely hard to do.”
So … Ohtani’s summary for his entire day on both sides of the ball:
Ohtani the hitter: Ohtani went 2-fo-2 with a walk and raised his average to .636 with a 1.836 OPS.
Ohtani the pitcher: Ohtani threw four innings, allowed two hits and a run, walked two and struck out five on 62 pitches, lowering his ERA to 7.88.
He hit 101.9 mph on a pitch to Tatis.
According to trackman data, this pitch clocked in at 101.9 MPH. https://t.co/eQscu3cEm1
— Angels PR (@LAAngelsPR) March 21, 2021
“I’m very excited to show what I can do — that’s why I came here back in 2018,” Ohtani said. “I’m sure I disappointed a lot of people the last two years by being hurt.
“I am looking forward to showing everyone what I’m capable of.”
You gotta love this guy.
The ‘Brief Breakdown’:
Pitching: Raisel Iglesias pitched a scoreless fifth before Ty Buttrey gave up three runs, but only one earned, as Dexter Fowler made a costly error in right field.
Chris Rodriguez and Mike Mayers finished things up on the hill for the Angels, pitching a scoreless inning each, with one strikeout each
Batters: Justin Upton’s single was the only other hit by an Angel other than Ohtani’s pair of hits and two from ageless first baseman Albert Pujols.
Trout and Rendon, the centerpieces of the Angels’ offense, are both batting just .200 …
Talking points: First baseman Pujols, age 41, became the first Angels player to play all nine innings of a Cactus League game — and he provided the Angels’ only offense. In the ninth inning, Pujols turned on a 97-mph fastball from Jordan Guerrero and crushed it 420 feet way up onto the berm in left field.
On Monday: The Chicago Cubs visit Tempe Diablo Stadium, where the Angels will have only three more home games before breaking camp. Right-hander Keegan Thompson will pitch for the Cubbies against Angels righty Griffin Canning.
The Angels are 10-8 on the season.