Masahiro Tanaka owned Shohei Ohtani in Japan, but here’s why he says it’s irrelevant
Masahiro Tanaka held Shohei Ohtani hitless in 11 at-bats with six strikeouts in Japan in 2013, when Tanaka was a 24-year-old ace in his final season with the Rakuten Golden Eagles and Ohtani was an 18-year-old budding two-way star with the Nippon-Ham Fighters.
The New York Yankees right-hander did not bother going over video from those 13 plate appearances, which included a walk, a hit-by-pitch and a double-play grounder, in preparation for Saturday night’s rematch with Ohtani, who was expected to start at designated hitter for the Angels before suffering a mild left-ankle sprain Friday night.
It would have been a waste of time.
“He’s grown drastically as a player from the time I faced him then to now,” Tanaka, speaking through an interpreter, said Friday. “The results were what they were back then, but I would never go back to how he was at that time and try to use it to prepare to pitch against him now.”
Tanaka dominated the Pacific League in 2013, going 24-0 with a 1.27 earned-run average. Ohtani, one year removed from high school, hit .238 with three homers and 20 RBIs as a rookie.
Five years later, Ohtani is a top starting pitcher and middle-of-the-order hitter for the Angels. He batted fifth, behind cleanup hitter Albert Pujols, Friday night and hit his fourth home run off Yankees starter Luis Severino. He will make his next pitching start Tuesday against the Baltimore Orioles.
“What he’s trying to do is something that’s out of the norm, that hasn’t been done since Babe Ruth,” said Tanaka, who chatted briefly with Ohtani in the outfield before batting practice Friday. “My take on that is he needs to keep doing what he’s doing and see how far he goes.”
Is Tanaka, who is 3-2 with a 4.97 ERA, looking forward to facing Ohtani?
“This might not be the answer you guys are looking for, but I can’t look at the lineup as Ohtani,” Tanaka said. “I mean, there are plenty of other batters that I need to face who are really good.”
Reliever Blake Wood played catch Friday for the first time since going on the disabled list Monday because of an elbow impingement. The right-hander appeared in 13 of the team’s first 22 games but does not believe his heavy workload contributed to his injury.
“Sometimes it’s just random,” Wood said. “We’re getting used, but it’s a good thing. We’re doing well, and we have a good bullpen. You could not pitch a lot and get hurt, too. I’ve thrown almost 80 innings in [each of] the last two seasons, and I haven’t gone on the DL since I had Tommy John surgery in 2012.”
Right-hander Matt Shoemaker, out since April 3 because of a forearm strain, played catch for the fifth straight day, extending to 90 feet. Though he described his progress as “baby steps,” he hopes to begin throwing off a mound in the next week or two.
JC Ramirez, who had elbow ligament replacement surgery April 17, is scheduled to have his cast removed and begin a 12-month rehabilitation process Monday. Ramirez had a stem-cell injection to address a smaller tear last September but made only two starts in 2018.
The Angels were 13 of 13 on stolen-base attempts this season before Ian Kinsler was thrown out by Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez trying to steal second base in the first inning Friday. … Reliever Luke Bard, a Rule 5 pick who was designated for assignment last Saturday, was returned to the Minnesota Twins on Friday. The right-hander had a 5.40 ERA in eight games for the Angels. … The Angels entered Friday with eight errors in 25 games, tied for the second fewest in the American League.
Follow Mike DiGiovanna on Twitter @MikeDiGiovanna
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