Shohei Ohtani arrived with much anticipation as a two-way superstar from Japan prior to the 2018 season. The young right-hander dazzled on the mound every Sunday.
Slugging home runs as the Angels designated hitter throughout the rest of the week. The rookie was heading for a historic season before his elbow gave out on the mound in June. He went on to continue to serve as the team’s DH and earned AL Rookie of the Year honors.
Immediately following his rookie season, Ohtani went under the knife. Undergoing Tommy John surgery to repair his torn UCL on October 1, 2018. Sidelining him from pitching for at least the next 12 months.
Solid bat in 2019
He would serve as the Angels everyday designated hitter while healing from the surgery in 2019. Hitting .286 with 20 doubles, 18 home runs, and 62 runs batted in across 106 games. He continued to contribute as a threat at the plate but was not the two-way player as advertised. Hope would be that Ohtani would be ready to resume as a pitcher in 2020.
As the Angels entered spring training last season, Ohtani was still not ready to face live hitters. The team was hoping he’d be ready to face live hitters in games by mid-April. Then COVID-19 shut down the world and Major League Baseball. Ohtani, like every other ballplayer, went home to train and prepare on their own.
By the time baseball resumed in a quick two-week boot camp in July, Ohtani was rushed to the mound. He was clearly not prepared to pitch yet. He was thrust into a pair of MLB games and was just simply out of sync. The 26-year-old failing to reach the third inning in either of his two starts.
The Angels wisely shut down his return as a pitcher. Having Ohtani focus on just hitting for the abbreviated 60-game 2020 season. His struggles on the mound seemingly followed him to the plate. The left-handed slugger hitting below the Mendoza line and appearing uneasy in at-bats.
The slugger’s hard-hit balls, exit velocity, and barreling percentage went from being in the top five percent to the middle of the pack. Clearly, Ohtani was not performing at the same level offensively in 2020 as from his first two MLB seasons.
He entered the off-season under a cloud of uncertainty.
Promise in 2021
In January, he would be the lone arbitration-eligible Angels player to not reach an agreement at the deadline. February 9th, the Angels and Ohtani would reach an agreement on a two-year, $8.5 million contract. The deal gets Ohtani through the first two years of arbitration. For the Angels, they should have a better understanding of who the real Ohtani is at the end of this agreement.
Ohtani reported to Tempe, Arizona with the pitchers and catchers in early February. His first bullpen session drew some criticism from certain media members. Noting his fastball only reached 90 mph in that side session.
As Cactus League games began for the Angels on February 28th, Ohtani served as the team’s designated hitter. Going 2-for-3 with two runs scored in his first appearance Tuesday, March 1st.
Ohtani would make headlines two days later when he clubbed a Hans Crouse pitch over 450 feet. Clearing the 30-foot-high batter’s eye in straight away center field.
The legendary slugger had returned to form.
SHOHEI OHTANI HOME RUN OVER THE BATTERS EYE SEASON
— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) March 3, 2021
Two days following that epic moon shot, the two-way player would return to the mound. Starting against the Oakland Athletics in Mesa. The Japanese right-hander’s fastball reached between 96 to 99 miles per hour. He would pitch one and two-thirds innings, allowing a run, and recording all five outs via the strikeout.
The legendary power pitcher seemingly returned to form.
All five Ohtani strikeouts Friday afternoon. https://t.co/dk0ENxYfn1
— Halo Life ⚾ (@_HaloLife) March 5, 2021
Just over a week into spring training, the DH is hitting .500 with a 1.300 OPS in his first ten at-bats. He’s scheduled to make his second start on the mound this coming Saturday.
Just as important. Manager Joe Maddon wants to let Shohei Ohtani develop his own boundaries. No more Sunday only starts for the young pitcher–A previous strategy former manager Mike Scioscia and GM Billy Eppler enforced his rookie season. Maddon plans to have Ohtani participate in a regular six-man rotation schedule. The Angels skipper has even hinted that he’d be open to allowing Ohtani to hit in games he pitches. Bottom line, Maddon’s letting the young phenom determine what he’s comfortable doing at this level. No limits.
The Angels are hoping they have their ace on the mound in addition to one of the most feared left-handed hitters in the league. After missing out on Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer the past two off-seasons, they may have had their ace on their roster all along. Maddon seems convinced he’s poised for a breakout season. The Angels faithful will hope they see a healthy, dominant, two-way sensation come April.