On Saturday, Angels fans across the globe celebrated the informal holiday known as ‘Hei Day. I say “informal” because, well, it was something that I had just made up that morning in order to commemorate the Japanese megastar’s first ever appearance for his new MLB team, the Los Angeles Angels.
We only got to see one facet of Ohtani’s toolkit during that match-up against the Milwaukee Brewers, as he was given the day’s start from the mound. With him putting on his pitching cap meant we wouldn’t get to see any of that sweet swing of his, but instead we’d be treated to a two-inning long look at his immense pitching aptitude. OK, so maybe he didn’t exactly blow any doors off in his much ballyhooed debut, throwing 31 pitches over 1 1⁄3 innings, with two Ks and one walk and having a touch of command issues along the way.
The gigantic caveat to his time on the mound was, of course, that it was not only a meaningless spring training game, but it was just the second spring training game of the 2018 camp. Many great pitchers are still pretty rusty at that point, and that’s true even if you’re an MLB vet, and not a 23-year-old who had only previously pitched professionally in Japan.
That didn’t stop a few of the old fishwrap plodders from churning out some pieces that were exercises in overreacting to the point of hilarity. Publications like the LA Times made it sound like those 1 1⁄3 IP served as the nails in the Ohtani hype coffin, which would have been funny if they weren’t being 100% serious and instead were dripping in sarcasm.
Those same bitter cranks must have felt somewhat disappointed, then, by Ohtani’s performance in today’s away game against the San Diego Padres, in which the newest prized Halo player made his debut at the dish. There wasn’t going to be any opportunity for clicks-via-hysteria today, nope. Shohei Ohtani dusted himself off after Saturday’s outing, picked up his piece of personal lumber and, penciled in at the #2 spot in the lineup, proceeded to show the baseball world that he is indeed a legit threat in both sides of the game.
Ohtani had three ABs this afternoon under the Arizona sun, and he performed swimmingly in each one of them. There weren’t any big fireworks, dingers or power strokes, but instead we saw a batter filled with unending patience, an astute eye for the strike zone, and an ability to make contact when it counted.
In his first AB, for instance, he took two strikes right away and quickly found himself in an 0-2 hole; but then he dug in and settled down, working himself back into a full count and finally drawing a walk on a pitch that may have been tough for other MLB players to lay off of, but not the eagle-eyed Ohtani:
Right away, Ohtani was doing his thing, and his thing is getting on base. He’d draw yet another walk in his second at-bat, setting up his big play of the day during his third at-bat, which came in the third inning. On the first pitch he saw, he made nice contact and put a ball right up the middle of the field, driving in a run in the process. That RBI single would be the cherry on top of Ohtani’s big OBP day, but alas, that’d be all we got to see of him in the contest.
The Angels fans at home must have had smiles from ear to ear at seeing him proving his mettle with the bat, leading to some serious daydreaming in regards to what’s on tap for the rest of his time with the Halos…or maybe that was just me. Either way, Shohei Ohtani looked pretty dang good, but just like his lackluster time on the mound last Saturday, there is a big time caveat on today’s game as well: it’s a meaningless spring training game.
Still, where there’s time to overreact to the bad things, hopefully the grumpiest of baseball scribes can now put out some glowing praise for the biggest MLB import in ages. This is spring training, after all, and the bigger the name, the less middle ground there is to stand on and everything becomes either a boom or a bust for the coming season. Us Angels fans know better, and let’s face it, we’re going to be hyped beyond belief no matter what he does in Tempe.
We’ll get our next chance to see Ohtani on Friday, in which he’ll return to the mound as the Halos’ starter, in either the day’s regular Cactus League game, or the B game that’s currently scheduled. Either way, all eyes will be back on Ohtani, and rightfully so.