PEORIA, Ariz. (AP) — Two-way star Shohei Ohtani had a much better big league debut as a hitter than he did as a pitcher.
After patiently drawing walks in his first two plate appearances, Ohtani hit a sharp RBI single up the middle in his first spring training start as a designated hitter for the Los Angeles Angels.
“I was happy to get that first hit out of the way but I was also happy with my first two at-bats,” the 23-year-old said through a translator after getting on base three times against three different San Diego Padres pitchers. “I got to see a lot of pitches and I got to face a righty and a lefty. I felt like I put together pretty good at-bats the first two walks.”
That’s why the lefty-hitting phenom was able to be aggressive in his third at-bat, when he hit the first pitch he saw from righty Michael Mariot for a single that brought in Eric Young Jr., who had doubled with one out.
“One of the reasons why I was able to see so many pitches in the first two at-bats was I just wanted to feel the difference in the strike zones between Japan and the States,” Ohtani said. “I felt like I kind of accomplished that plus I just wanted to be aggressive on the first pitch.”
After his single, Ohtani was lifted for a pinch-runner and received a nice round of applause from the fans at Peoria Stadium, which was less than half full.
Ohtani saw 11 pitches his first two times up and swung at only two.
Batting second, he fell behind 0-2 against right-hander Jordan Lyles before drawing four straight balls in the first inning. He advanced on David Fletcher’s single and was erased on Martin Maldonado’s inning-ending double play.
Ohtani walked again in the third against lefty Buddy Bauman and took second on a wild pitch, beating the throw with an awkward slide.
The Angels lost 10-4 as the Padres hit five home runs, including an inside-the-parker by Franchy Cordero.
Ohtani’s first Cactus League at-bats came two days after his first start on the mound. The Japanese newcomer allowed a home run and didn’t make it through his scheduled two innings against Milwaukee.
Ohtani said he wasn’t nervous.
“Actually, it felt really natural going into my first at-bat. I was able to see the ball really well,” he said.
“I was able to see a lot of pitches, so that was really good. I just want to keep it going. I’m seeing the ball pretty well so hopefully I can have better at-bats tomorrow.”
Ohtani is trying to become the first player in nearly 100 years to play regularly as a pitcher and hitter.
Asked if hitting is ahead of his pitching, he said: “I think this goes for almost any player, I think my hitting is always ahead of my pitching at this point of the year, just like any other year.”
Ohtani spent five seasons with the Nippon Ham Fighters before signing with the Angels as an international free agent on Dec. 10. The Angels paid a $20 million posting fee to the Ham Fighters. Ohtani, who will be under the Angels’ contractual control for six years, signed a minor league contract and can receive up to $2,315,000 in international bonus money from the Angels.
Ohtani likely could have received a deal worth more than $100 million if he had waited two years to move stateside, but he wasn’t interested in delaying his progress for money.
“He saw the ball really well,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “I definitely like the two walks. It was a good day for Shohei.”
As much as Ohtani needs to understand how big league pitchers can exploit the strike zone and hit their spots, “right now it’s really just get your feet on the ground, seeing some velocity,” Scioscia said. “That’s three good at-bats for Shoehei.”
Scioscia said there’s a chance Ohtani could bat again on Tuesday when the Angels face Colorado at Salt River Fields. Scioscia said Ohtani will pitch again on Friday, maybe in a B game.
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