Shohei Ohtani, the “Japanese Babe Ruth,” made his Major League debut Thursday for the Los Angeles Angels against the Oakland Athletics, the American Yakult Swallows. Ohtani went 1 for 5 as the designated hitter, batting 8th in the 6-5 loss to my favorite team on Opening Day.
Ohtani was the most talked-about player in the off-season. MLB announced his eligibility to play for an American team in November; he signed with Los Angeles two weeks later, and speculation about how the Angels would or should use him has been non-stop ever since.
Ohtani is a unicorn in the Majors: the first player expected to see regular action as both a pitcher and hitter since Babe Ruth in the 1930s. As a pitcher, he holds the Nippon Professional Baseball record for the fastest pitch ever thrown (102.5 MPH). As a hitter, he hit a respectable .286 over five seasons with 48 home runs.
He had a less-than-impressive spring training at the plate and on the mound, leading many to suggest that the Angels were hurrying him along, at least in their expectation to use him as both a pitcher and a hitter.
While Ohtani was in the Opening Day lineup as a DH, he didn’t bat Friday against the left-handed Oakland starter Sean Manaea (Ohtani throws right-handed but hits left-handed), and he’s not in the lineup for today’s game, since he’s scheduled to pitch Sunday.
At least for now, this seems to be the Angels’ plan. Ohtani is fourth in the pitching rotation and will be eased into his role as a hitter, most likely as a DH but not on days before he pitches, and perhaps with limited action against left-handed pitchers. Slotting him eighth in the batting order further decreases the pressure to become acclimated to American pitching.
However, pressure will undoubtedly be a constant all season as the Japanese media gives him the Ichiro Suzuki treatment. Most American fans won’t be watching quite as attentively, but until he explodes into stardom or fizzles as a disapointment, he’ll remain one of 2018’s big stories in the Majors.
Sunday’s game against Oakland is at 1:05 p.m. at the Oakland Coliseum.