Ohtani gets the ball on Opening Day with eye on back-to-back MVPs

Apr 4, 2022; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Angels designated hitter Shohei Ohtani (17) looks on during warm up before the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

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LOS ANGELES, April 5 (Reuters) — Shohei Ohtani makes his first career Opening Day start for the Los Angeles Angels on Thursday as the two-way star looks to continue the awe-inspiring play that made him baseball’s most talked-about player last season.

The Oshu, Japan native last year drew comparisons to Babe Ruth for his immense, «Shotime» talent as both a hitter and pitcher, and went on to be named the unanimous winner of the 2021 AL MVP award.

He went 9-2 on the mound, hit 46 home runs and graced the cover of Sony’s «MLB The Show 22» video game.

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On Thursday, he struck out four and his cutter reached 99 mph as he geared up to face AL West rivals the Houston Astros on Opening Day in Anaheim.

«It was my last start before the season opener and I’m glad I got to my pitch count,» Ohtani said through an interpreter after the game.

«Everything is going really smooth. I’ll definitely throw a bullpen (before Opening Day), but the biggest thing is just getting my recovery and fatigue out of the way.

«I’ll try to play in as many games as possible in between, get some at-bats and try to balance that out.»

On Sunday he hit his third home run of Spring Training, sending the unmistakable message that he is looking to do damage at the plate this year as well.

As well as rewriting history books last season, Ohtani has since made his mark on the rule books.

MLB has announced a rule change to reflect his unique talents dubbed the «Shohei Ohtani rule»: on days when he is pitching he will also be listed as the designated hitter, meaning he can stay in the game to bat even after he is done on the mound.

Now the Angels and their long-suffering fans hope Ohtani’s heroics will end their post-season drought.

The Angels have not made the playoffs since 2014 but were without nine-time All-Star Mike Trout for much of last season with a torn calf muscle.

But Trout is back now and manager Joe Maddon has suggested he will bat second, behind leadoff hitter Ohtani.

That one-two punch at the top of the order is enough to keep opposing pitchers up at night. Anthony Rendon and Jared Walsh are expected to hit third and fourth.

«My biggest job is to get on base,» Ohtani said.

«Ideally, extra bases, but if not, draw a walk. And just get someone on for Trout, Rendon, Walshy and those guys.»

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Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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