So much for the easiest jokes, like the one about how Shohei Ohtani is hitting like a pitcher and pitching like a hitter.
In his big league mound debut Sunday, the Angels’ rookie from Japan wasn’t perfect but he was impressive.
Ohtani gave up three consecutive runs to the Oakland Athletics in the second inning but otherwise gave up nothing more than one walk.
He was the winner in a 7-4 Angels’ victory, going six innings and striking out six, the performance as attention-grabbing as Ohtani’s fastball, the one that peaked at 99.6 mph Sunday.
“This is what we’ve been waiting for, for him to get in a big league game,” pitching coach Charles Nagy said. “He went out there and just proved to everybody that he belongs here.”
Ohtani’s first pitch was a 96-mph fastball that Marcus Semien took for a strike. The baseball was removed from play so it could be presented later to Ohtani.
He retired each of the first four batters, three of them by strikeout, and looked nothing like a 23-year-old or a rookie or someone under intense scrutiny.
“Shohei has shown great poise in everything he’s done,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “I think that’s going to be one of his strengths moving on.”
With one out in the second inning, Ohtani gave up consecutive singles to Matt Joyce and Stephen Piscotty.
After getting a strike on Matt Chapman, Ohtani threw a slider that hung just a little too long and caught just a little too much of the plate.
An estimated 392 feet later, Ohtani’s unblemished ERA was gone and so was the Angels’ 2-0 lead.
What happened next, however, was what defined the day for Ohtani and his team. As the Angels came back to retake the lead, the A’s were reduced to being a group flailing and failing.
Ohtani set down 14 of the final 15 batters he faced, including the last eight. After the Chapman home run, only three balls hit against Ohtani reached the outfield.
He gave up only three hits and threw 63 of his 92 pitches for strikes on a day so long coming it was easy to forget that this wasn’t a conclusion.
“More than feeling like I made it here, I felt like I was just starting,” Ohtani said. “I would like to work toward my next start.”
In spring training, he struggled with command and pitch efficiency. But in his first real game, he revealed himself to be the exact elite prospect that allured all of baseball.
The few mistakes Ohtani did make were obscured largely by his unrelenting velocity. It’s easier to survive poorly placed pitches, catcher Martin Maldonado explained, “when you got a guy throwing 99, 98, 97.”
Scioscia spent all spring training downplaying questions about Ohtani by saying he wasn’t being treated any differently than the rest of the Angels.
“Our expectations for Shohei are the same as they are for any one of our pitchers,” Scioscia said before the game Sunday. “Go out there and give us a chance to win.”