Tempe, Ariz. - Oh!tani?
Is he greatest two-way Major League player in 100 years, an All-Star pitcher, a Designated Hitter with a .325 average and 100 RBIs, the best U.S. import from Japan since instant noodles and karaoke, Pokemon, a circus sideshow act or baseball’s most alluring attendance attraction this season? Tim Tebow?
Shohei Ohtani has come to America.
During the Angels-Rockies exhibition on Sunday, a rather sizable group of knot-hole lookie-loos assembled at an outfield corner of Tempe Diablo Stadium and peered through a chain-link fence at the action.
“What you watching?’’ I asked.
“Oh, Ohtani,’’ a young man in an Angels jersey replied.
“He’s not playing,’’ I said.
“Maybe he’ll pinch-hit,’’ said his companion, who was wearing a Nippon-Ham Fighters jersey.
“Nope, day off.’’
"He might walk by."
"There are Angels in the outfield, but no Ohtani. Albert Pujols just batted, and Mike Trout’s in the game. Couple of future Hall of Famers.
“We don’t care about them. Ohtani is The Man.’’
The “Japanese Babe Ruth’’ pitched in a "B," or junior varsity, game on Friday on a back lot at the Brewers’ spring training camp in Maryvale, Ariz., Friday. He worked 2 2/3 innings against fellows who had an assortment of 70s and 80s on their backs (because they’ll be playing for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox and the Biloxi Shuckers).
Ohtani struck out eight of 12 batters he confronted.
It was his second occasion on a mound of some location this spring. In Ohtani’s first appearance as a Major League pitcher, he faced seven batters and allowed two hits (one home run), two walks and two runs (one earned) – and struck out two.
Not an auspicious start.
In his debut as a DH, Shohei reached base all three at-bats, walking after a 0-2 count, drawing another walk and getting a single to drive in Eric Young Jr. from second.
Ohtani then went 0-3 against the Rox last week. Perhaps the Angels didn’t want Ohtani to go up against Jon Gray on Sunday afternoon.
Young Mr. Ohtani has been placed on a regimented schedule by the Angels. When the regular season begins, the 23-year-old right-handed pitcher, left-handed hitter will be in the club‘s novel six-man rotation (copied from the Nippon Professional Baseball league) and following the strategy when he played with the Fighters. Ohtani hit .322 and .332 the past two seasons. Over his five-year career, Ohtani compiled a 42-15 mark (2.69 earned-run average) as a starting pitcher.
He will pitch twice a week and DH two or three games, according to Mike Scioscia, the former catcher who has been a manager for 19 seasons. He’s witnessed it all in baseball . . . except for this.
“When the season opens up, we’ll obviously look very closely at it,’’ Scioscia was quoted as saying in a story written by Jack MacGruder for MLB.com. “There is a lot of effort a pitcher has to put into pitching, and obviously it might erode some of the opportunities he has to hit. But we’re going to be flexible with everything we do. If it comes down to where he is pitching in a day, and he’s not going to hit the day before, so be it. If it comes down where he is pitching in a day, and he’s not going to hit the day before, so be it. If a day after, he is not available to pinch-hit, so be it.’’
Meanwhile, Ohtani certainly is enjoying the experience – and has shown stretches of proficiency, power and potential in his brief time as The Show’s Shohei.
The general belief is that Ohtani will be more talented throwing than hitting. But, then, he’s rookie in this country.
The last guy to do both successfully for more than a short stint was The Babe.
He came to the majors as a pitcher who could hit some. From 1915-1917 Ruth won 18, 23 and 24 games. He also hit .315, .272 and .325.
But a century ago, 1918, when Ruth also was 23, he was spending more time in the outfield than on the mound. He won 13 games and batted .300. By 1920 Babe was purely a hitter -- .376 with 54 homers and 95 RBIs.
Who knows what Shohei Ohtani will do as a pitcher or a hitter, or both?
So be it. Oh, yes!