Shohei Ohtani was mentioned in Joe Maddon’s pregame and postgame news conferences on Friday.
In the afternoon, the Angels manager announced the two-way star would have his next pitching start, originally scheduled for Tuesday against the Cleveland Indians, pushed back one to three days as a precaution after Maddon sensed some fatigue had carried over from Ohtani’s last outing on the mound earlier this week.
But on Friday night, while serving as designated hitter in the Angels' series-opening loss against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, Ohtani appeared to be at full strength, hitting a double off the Green Monster in his first at-bat before clearing it for a solo home run in the sixth inning.
“This stadium has a lot of history, a lot of tradition,” Ohtani, who hadn’t hit a home run against the Red Sox in his career before Friday, said through his interpreter. “To be able to hit a home run on a field like that, it was pretty special.”
Ohtani is tied for second in the majors with 11 home runs and has more extra-base hits (23) than anyone else in the American League. He raised his on-base-plus-slugging percentage back above .900 and drove in his 27th run of the season, second most on the team.
“He’s such a freak athlete, he’s good at everything,” said Griffin Canning, the Angels’ Friday night starting pitcher. “I think we kind of take it for granted, just because we’re seeing him every day … But it’s a lot of fun to watch.”
Ohtani will skip his normal rotation turn Tuesday and pitch later in the week. The Angels haven’t finalized a date, but Maddon expected it would be either Wednesday, Thursday (when the Angels play a doubleheader against the Minnesota Twins) or Friday.
Maddon said the decision had nothing to do with an injury or concern over a blister. Ohtani, who has a 2.10 ERA in five starts this season, has only pitched on a normal six-day rotation twice. In April, a blister forced him to miss two starts. Two weeks ago, he had another start pushed back two days after getting hit by a pitch on his throwing elbow.
This time, however, is different.
“It’s just being proactive,” Maddon said. “Attempting to take care of him and his best interests.”
Maddon said he noticed Ohtani looked “a little bit fatigued” in an zero-for-four performance as the Angels’ designated hitter Wednesday, the day after a busy two-way game in which he threw seven innings on the mound, took four at-bats at the plate and even played a half-inning in right field.
“That set off somewhat of a little bit of an alarm to me,” Maddon said of Ohtani’s appearance Wednesday. “So moving out to his next start, I thought it’d be wise ... just giving him time to recover from all that and then assign him his next pitching date.”
Ohtani said Tuesday night that his body “felt a little heavy, a little sluggish,” during his pitching outing — he later told Japanese reporters he thought it might have been from the team’s travel to Houston two days before — but believed it actually helped him be more efficient with his pitching mechanics. He had his best start of the season that night, giving up just one run against the Astros while striking out 10.
The next day, however, Ohtani struck out twice and made soft contact in his other two at-bats, going hitless while batting leadoff for the first time this season.
Following the team’s off day on Thursday, Ohtani bounced back nicely against the Red Sox, recording multiple extra-base hits for the sixth time this year. But after playing in his 37th straight game to begin the season — he has started as either a batter or pitcher (and on three occasions, both) in all but one — he acknowledged Friday, “I would be lying if I said I’m not feeling fatigued right now. But everyone goes through this.”
Still, Maddon wants to be cautious with the two-way star in the short term, trying to protect him from getting burned out early in the campaign.
“He’s been so good,” Maddon said. “I’m just concerned about, when he’s going so well offensively, that maybe if he might be fatigued a little bit that he’s going to still want to go out there. I would. If you’re feeling really good, you might try to fight through some fatigue that you’re feeling.
“The conversations as we get into the season will become a little more involved between he and I and Ippei [Mizuhara, Ohtani’s interpreter]. I expected that from the beginning, and we’re not there yet. But this is one of those things, you want to avoid any kind of fatigue situation that can compromise him in any way.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.