Apparently it wasn’t enough that Shohei Ohtani pitched seven innings of one-run ball and struck out 10 Houston Astros hitters while serving as the Los Angeles Angels‘ No. 2 hitter on Tuesday night. In the bottom of the eighth, with the score tied and his spot due up in the next half-inning, Ohtani also checked in as the Angels’ right fielder.
Calling him a two-way player no longer does him justice.
Ohtani, with a 2.10 ERA in 25 2/3 innings and a .903 OPS in 141 plate appearances, became only the third player since 1900 to strike out 10 or more batters and then play another position, according to research by the Elias Sports Bureau. The last one to do so and play right field was Harvey Haddix in 1952.
“His full complement of talents were on display tonight,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said.
Ohtani flashed his best command of the season and attacked the Astros primarily with four-seam fastballs. The only run against him came on a fifth-inning Kyle Tucker solo homer from Kyle Tucker that sailed only 377 feet beyond Minute Maid Park’s short left-field fence.
At the start of the next inning, Maddon floated the possibility of Ohtani eventually playing right field as a way to preserve his bat for what continued to be a close game. Ohtani, 26, spent an inning in left field earlier this season and before then had not appeared in the outfield since his 2014 season in Japan. But he got some light practice time there last year, after it was determined that he could no longer pitch during the shortened season, and Maddon has often raved about how naturally he tracks fly balls.
Tuesday’s game, Maddon said, developed like a “perfect storm.” The Angels trailed 1-0 after seven innings but were finally able to score off Astros right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. in the top of the eighth on a solo home run by Taylor Ward.
Ohtani was at 88 pitches heading into the bottom of the eighth and Maddon didn’t give much thought to leaving him on the mound. But his spot was due up second in the top of the ninth and Ohtani agreed to the idea of staying on the field. Maddon chose right field instead of left because it was more convenient to replace Ward, who had recently hit, and stick with left fielder Justin Upton, whose spot was due fifth in the ninth. But it also meant a longer throw for Ohtani.
Maddon instructions for Ohtani were simple: Get the ball back into the infield as quickly as possible
The plan was quickly rendered meaningless. The Astros scored four runs off Angels relievers Aaron Slegers and Alex Claudio, blowing the game open. Ohtani only got a clean single hit to his direction but said he “had a lot of fun” filling three roles in one game.
He hopes to do so more often.
“That’s completely up to Joe,” Ohtani, speaking through his interpreter, said of playing the outfield after his starts. “I just need to keep on hitting and contribute with the bat to make him think he wants to put me in right field so I can get an extra at-bat.”
Ohtani said he felt “a little heavy, a little sluggish” during his pregame bullpen session but believes compensating for that helped him simplify his mechanics and ultimately throw more strikes. Ohtani threw 70% of his pitches for strikes, the highest rate of his major league career, and allowed just four baserunners aside from the home run.
Ohtani became the first pitcher in the modern era, which dates back to 1900, to strike out 40 or more batters and allow fewer than a dozen hits over his first five starts of a season.
His strikeout rate, 14.03%, ranks fourth among pitchers with at least 25 innings.
His 10 home runs are one shy of the major league lead.
His six stolen bases are tied for ninth.
And apparently he plays the outfield, too.
“That’s so unusual what he was able to do tonight,” Maddon said, while also downplaying the possibility of it happening again. “He does it so easy that we have to understand it’s not so easy to do what he’s doing.”