Ohtani first to throw pitch, lead off to start season

Ohtani first to throw pitch, lead off to start season

ANAHEIM — Shohei Ohtani made history again on Opening Day.

Ohtani, the reigning American League MVP, became the first player in AL/NL history to both throw his team’s first pitch of the season and face his team’s first pitch of the season as a hitter. Ohtani dazzled on the mound — allowing one run on three hits over 4 2/3 innings with nine strikeouts — but it came in a 3-1 loss to the Astros on Thursday in front of a sold-out crowd at Angel Stadium. He also went 0-for-4 at the plate, including coming up as the tying run with two outs in the eighth, only to hit a high fly ball to right to end the inning.

“My splitter was a little bit all over the place, but I felt good about my fastball, curveball and slider,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “I had a chance in my last at-bat to tie the game but I couldn’t come through, which was disappointing. On the pitching side, I felt like the pitch count was high and it didn’t allow me to stay in the game longer.”

The two-way superstar made his first career Opening Day start as a pitcher, striking out Jose Altuve to start the game en route to a scoreless first inning despite allowing a single and walking a batter. He also batted leadoff for the Angels, rapping the first pitch from Framber Valdez to short and nearly beating out an infield single. He reached 29.7 feet per second on his way to first, which is just a tick under the 30 feet per second that’s considered elite by Statcast.

That means Ohtani was the first Angels player to take the mound this season — and the first Angels player to step into the batter’s box. He departed from the mound with two outs in the fifth after having thrown 80 pitches. Thanks to the “Ohtani Rule,” he stayed in the game as the designated hitter and had two more at-bats.

“Overall, I was pretty satisfied with the way I felt at the plate, even though the results weren’t there,” Ohtani said. “In my last at-bat, I almost forgot I had pitched and just felt like the DH.”

On the mound, he kept Astros hitters off-balance throughout his outing, including striking out Altuve three times. He became just the fourth pitcher to strike out Altuve three times in a game, joining Matt Cain, Zack Greinke and Max Scherzer. His nine strikeouts also ranked tied for fourth in Angels history on Opening Day.

He settled down after a first inning that saw him reach at least 98 mph with his fastball 14 times, including a 99.8 heater to open the game. He found himself in a groove, striking out four batters in a row, but gave up a two-out double to Michael Brantley and an RBI single to Alex Bregman with Jo Adell’s throw home sailing halfway between first base and home plate.

“You saw the gun tonight with a lot of 97s and 99s,” manager Joe Maddon said. “In the past, in the early part of the game it would be lower numbers until he needed it. But right now, even when it’s needed , he’s still doing those things. His slider and curveball were good but he hung a few splits. Bregman got a hanging split and that usually doesn’t occur.”

Ohtani again settled in, including striking out the side in the fourth. He got Yuli Gurriel looking at a 98 mph fastball, Kyle Tucker swinging on an 80 mph curveball and Jeremy Peña swinging on an 84 mph slider. He gave up a leadoff double to Chas McCormick in the fifth on a ball misplayed by Adell and exited after striking out Altuve for a third time for the second out. Lefty Aaron Loup came in and struck out Brantley to end the inning.

“I had to get him out of there after 80 pitches because that was kind of our number limit,” Maddon said. “He would’ve had to work really hard to get that last out. And Loup did a great job. But once again, nothing’s too quick or too big for him.”

Ohtani, 27, is coming off a season that saw him post 46 home runs, 26 stolen bases and 100 RBIs as a hitter last season, while going 9-2 with a 3.18 ERA and 156 strikeouts as a pitcher. And he’s stated he believes he can be even better this year.

“What he did last year should bolster his confidence, I’d imagine, and he looks very confident this year,” Maddon said. “The way he goes about it, he’s in a moment and he’s under control.”

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