ANAHEIM, Calif. — Shohei Ohtani is both pitching and hitting for the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday night for the first time since the two-way star moved to the majors.
Ohtani even took the No. 2 slot in the Angels’ lineup while he also made his first mound start of the season against the Chicago White Sox.
Ohtani is just the third pitcher over the last 45 seasons to hit for himself in a game with the designated hitter available. He’s also the first pitcher to bat second for a team since Jack Dunleavy did it for the St. Louis Cardinals on Sept. 7, 1903.
“Don’t you love it?” Angels manager Joe Maddon asked. “This was him deciding that he could do this. … When he came over, this is what he wanted to do. This is why he signed up. Everybody clamored for him because of this particular reason, so I think it’s important that we give him this opportunity to do that and see how it plays out.”
No Angels pitcher had ever hit for himself in a game with the designated hitter available since the rule was implemented in the AL in 1973.
Ohtani is the Angels’ everyday designated hitter, but the 2018 AL Rookie of the Year is also attempting a full-time return to the starting rotation. Ohtani made just two starts over the past two years after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
The Angels previously have held Ohtani out of games on the day before and the day after he pitches, but Ohtani also played against Chicago on Saturday night, going 1 for 4 as the designated hitter. The Angels are trying new ways to focus Ohtani’s mental approach in his difficult job, and Maddon thinks being in the batting lineup might help his pitcher.
“Theoretically, I thought that would be a residue positive component of him being able to do both,” Maddon said. “Just go pitch, then go hit, go pitch, go hit, just play baseball. … I do believe conversationally, it does help him doing both.”
Ohtani said on Saturday that he wanted to try pitching and hitting in the same game partly because he might be able to produce offensive support for himself, thereby giving him more confidence and room for aggression as a pitcher. Ohtani hit his first homer of the season Friday against the White Sox.
An AL team hadn’t declined to use the DH in a game in which it was available since May 17, 2009, when Maddon’s Tampa Bay Rays did it accidentally. Maddon submitted a lineup card with an error, listing two third basemen — which meant Andy Sonnanstine had to hit for himself while Evan Longoria wasn’t allowed to play.
The prior time an AL team declined the designated hitter was Sept. 23, 1976, when Ken Brett of the Chicago White Sox batted eighth. The only other time it happened since 1976 was on June 30, 2016, when San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner batted for himself against Oakland.
Although Ohtani’s two-way career stalled in the past two seasons, he still became the first player to make starts as both a pitcher and a non-pitcher in three different seasons since Bobby Reis did it for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Boston Bees in the mid-1930s.
The Angels are still all-in on Ohtani’s two-way dreams early in his fourth season in the majors, even though he performed poorly on the mound during his only two starts in 2020. Ohtani had an outstanding spring training on the mound and at the plate, keeping the Angels fully committed to the chance to have the most effective two-way player in the majors in decades.
“He’s got a great career doing either, and he might have a really spectacular, special career doing both,” Maddon said. “So you never want to get in the way of greatness.”