An exhilarating start to a historic night ended in a scare for Los Angeles Angels two-way player Shohei Ohtani, who exited his outing after taking a Jose Abreu cleat to his left ankle in the fifth inning of a 7-4 walk-off victory over the Chicago White Sox on Sunday.
The Angels said Ohtani wasn’t removed from his outing because of injury — he had already thrown 92 pitches and had navigated a very taxing half-inning — and that he was merely sore. Ohtani said his leg felt “fine” after the game, adding that the collision “wasn’t as bad as it looked.” He will be reevaluated on Monday, according to the team.
Angels manager Joe Maddon said Ohtani won’t be in the starting lineup Monday against the visiting Houston Astros, but it doesn’t sound as if the scare will preclude Maddon from continuing to use Ohtani aggressively.
Ohtani — hitting on the same day of his start for the first time in his major league career — was left in to face Yoan Moncada with the bases loaded, two outs and his command seemingly wavering. Ohtani struck out Moncada with the seventh pitch of the at-bat, but Angels catcher Max Stassi failed to corral a splitter, ultimately prompting Ohtani to cover home, where he got clipped by Abreu as he slid in to tie the game. Ohtani limped off the field, paving the way for Steve Cishek to finish the top of the fifth.
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Asked about keeping Ohtani in the game to that point given that the White Sox were threatening and it was the third time through the order, Maddon said: “Did you see the stuff he had?”
“He had great stuff,” Maddon added. “I don’t believe in the third-time-through stuff. It depends on what the pitcher has. I don’t think any of those hitters had good swings at him. Did they hit any balls hard? He did walk a couple guys, there’s no question, but his stuff was still premium.
“He had great stuff, and that’s the part of a player’s situation that he can really, mentally, become something even more special than he is by fighting through that moment. So, I totally disagree with that evaluation. That was his spot. He had great stuff, I had a lot of confidence in him, and the ball that gets past the catcher is strike three, which would have been an entirely different outcome.”
Instead, it was a sour end to a thrilling night for Ohtani, who began it by throwing a baseball 101 mph in the top of the first inning and hitting a baseball 115 mph in the bottom of the first. Ohtani’s 100.6 mph pitch to Adam Eaton, which helped set up his first strikeout, was the fastest-thrown pitch by any starting pitcher this season. And Ohtani’s home run, which carried an exit velocity of 115.2 mph, was the hardest-hit homer of the season by any player.
Ohtani, 26, finished 1-for-3 at the plate, including a lineout to center and a hard groundout up the middle. On the mound, he was charged with three runs (one earned) on two hits, five walks and seven strikeouts in 4⅔ innings. He threw eight pitches at least 100 mph, one more than he had accumulated in 12 prior major league starts.
Ohtani became the first starting pitcher to bat second in a game since Jack Dunleavy in 1903, and it sounds as if that will be the norm this season.
Maddon believes juggling both disciplines brings out more of Ohtani’s personality.
“I think you’re seeing him for the first time,” Maddon said. “I’m absolutely seeing Shohei as he is, as he functions as a human. There’s no barriers.
“He wanted to stay in for one more guy after he fell to the ground, and I said, ‘No, that’s about right there, brother.’ I think he was at early 90 number of pitches, which was right about our threshold. Man, that’s how a guy becomes a guy. You gotta give him that opportunity.”
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