On the eve of opening day there were serious concerns about Shohei Ohtani’s readiness to compete in Major League Baseball as both a pitcher and hitter.
One week later, the Los Angeles Angels rookie has not merely silenced those concerns, he’s squashed them with authority.
After winning his pitching debut in impressive fashion Sunday in Oakland, the two-way superstar has started flexing his muscles at the plate too after homering in each of his first games at Angel Stadium. That included a fifth-inning, two-run blast against Indians ace Corey Kluber on Wednesday that tied the game. The Angels would go on to win 3-2 in 13 innings on Zack Cozart’s walk-off homer.
If you’re a fan of the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals, you might be especially jealous of Ohtani’s early and unexpected offensive success. That’s because his two homers are more than either team has hit through the first week of the season. Ohtani’s two homers also put him even with the Miami Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays, and one behind the Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers first week output.
Honestly, we didn’t even know if Ohtani would get two starts at designated hitter during opening week, let alone hit two homers. He’s now had three, and he’s hitting an impressive .429/.429/.857. It goes to show that it’s often the moments we don’t see coming that provide the most thrills.
Ohtani’s moments have definitely been thrilling. He wasted no time electrifying fans at Angel Stadium by homering in his first home at-bat in Tuesday’s 13-2 win against the Cleveland Indians. That was the beginning of a three-hit night that included a pair of hard hit singles.
Less than 24 hours later, manager Mike Scioscia had Ohtani back in the No. 8 spot in the Angels’ order against Kluber, Cleveland’s and a two-time American League Cy Young Award winner. That decision paid dividends when Ohtani slugged a two-run home run in the fifth inning.
If there’s a signature moment in Ohtani’s impressive first week, the homer against Kluber has to be it. We’ve gone from some scouts feeling Ohtani needed a full season concentrating on just hitting in the minor leagues to develop his offensive game, to Ohtani hitting a 400-foot homer to straight away center field against one of MLB’s elite pitchers.
While onlookers may have started wavering on Ohtani based on his spring training results, the Angels never did. Scioscia and general manger Billy Eppler continually expressed confidence that Ohtani would contribute right off the bat, both as a pitcher and a hitter. So far that confidence has been rewarded, perhaps even more than they imagined.
Some big tests for Ohtani still lie ahead. Now that teams have seen him in action in games that count, they’ll start formulating gameplans to beat him. He’ll have to make some adjustments as he goes, but based on the early results and the talent that became apparent during his time in Japan, he’s already one step ahead.
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