Shohei Ohtani threw a few fastballs past a few overmatched hitters and froze a few others with well-placed breaking balls.
If Monday’s first spring outing is any indication, the two-way Los Angeles Angels star is only getting better on the mound. Ohtani struck out five batters while allowing one run on three hits in 2 1/3 innings against the Kansas City Royals.
“He picked up where he left off,” Angels wide receiver Max Stassi said. “He’s worked hard in the offseason and he’s in a much better position this year, understanding the two-way street, what he has to do.
“His stuff looked really polished. As good as last year, if not better.
Last year’s American League MVP was snappy in the first, getting a strike called on his first pitch against Kansas City’s Kyle Isbel and then earning the strikeout by blowing a fastball high past the outfielder left three pitches later.
He struck out seven of the 11 batters he faced. Edward Olivares hit a one-out single in the first inning and JaCoby Jones was hit by a pitch in the second. The Royals scored their run in third when Isbel’s downline passed a diving Brandon Marsh for a triple. Olivares led it with an RBI single down the middle, which ended Ohtani’s afternoon.
“The last two shots I gave up were sliders in the middle, so that’s something I need to work on,” Ohtani said.
Ohtani threw 50 pitches, including 33 strikes. He was expected to throw around 45 pitches.
Ohtani, 27, is trying to replicate one of the most productive and unique seasons in MLB history. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound player has become one of the best pitchers and hitters in the game on the verge of earning unanimous MVP honors.
Ohtani’s progress in the spring – especially given the abbreviated schedule due to the lockdown – will be watched closely as he has arguably the most unique role in baseball.
After three years of stoppages and starts due to injury and caution, the Angels finally released Ohtani last season, allowing him to be a full-time hitter and pitcher with few restrictions. The production was breathtaking: he was one of the most feared power hitters in the game with 46 homers, 26 doubles and eight triples, throwing 26 stolen bases for good measure.
He was also outstanding on the mound, finishing with a 9-2 record and 3.18 ERA in 23 starts, striking out 156 in 130 1/3 innings.
Ohtani’s incredible individual season kept the Angels from qualifying for the playoffs in 2021. The team finished with a disappointing 77-85 record.
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