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Shohei Ohtani makes history with announcement of Home Run Derby participation

Angels pitcher Shohei Ohtani bats against the Arizona Diamondbacks on June 13.
Shohei Ohtani bats against the Arizona Diamondbacks on June 13.
(Christian Petersen / Getty Images)

Shohei Ohtani was already one of the biggest stories of this MLB season.

Next month, he’ll step onto one of the sport’s biggest stages too.

The Angels’ two-way star will compete in MLB’s Home Run Derby on July 12 at Coors Field in Denver, Ohtani making the announcement official on Friday before hitting two home runs in the Angels’ 11-3 win against the Detroit Tigers.

Ohtani, the 26-year-old left-handed hitting slugger whose 21 homers are third-most in the majors, will be the first Japanese-born participant in the event’s 36-year history and first Angels player to take part since Albert Pujols in 2015. He will also be the first derby contestant to have started an MLB game as a pitcher.

“I always wanted to see a Japanese player participate in the Home Run Derby,” Ohtani said through his interpreter Friday. “It happens to be me. I’m really excited for it.”

Watch every home run Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani has hit so far this season.

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In four major league seasons, Ohtani has 66 home runs. Combined with his five seasons in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league, he has 114 as a professional.

This year, he hit eight home runs in April, seven in May and four so far in June — including a projected 470-foot blast on June 8 against the Kansas City Royals that marked the longest of his MLB career.

According to MLB’ Statcast system, Ohtani ranks among the top 5% of big-leaguers this season in average exit velocity on his batted balls, hard hit percentage and barrel percentage.

Combined with a 2.70 ERA and 73 strikeouts as a starting pitcher, Ohtani has become an early-season contender in the American League MVP race. And in the first update of fan voting for this year’s All-Star game released this week, Ohtani was the top vote-getter among American League designated hitters.

“He will definitely rise to the occasion,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “He kind of likes that stuff.”

Maddon said he was happy about Ohtani pariticipating and that the Angels’ front office signed off on the decision as well. Maddon added that he had “zero concerns” about Ohtani doing the derby one night, then playing in the All-Star game, potentially both ways, the next.

Not since the legendary Babe Ruth has a player dominated on the mound and at the plate like the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani.

Some players avoid the derby over concerns it can negatively impact their swings or cause extra exhaustion during the lone extended break in the regular season schedule.

Ohtani, however, said he learned not to overexert himself during an appearance in NPB’s home run derby in 2016, an event he won a day before also claiming MVP honors in the Japanese league’s second All-Star game.

“In 2016, I was trying to swing at the ball too hard, harder than normal,” Ohtani said. “So this time around, will just try to use that experience and take normal [batting practice] hacks, not try to do too much.”

Maddon also downplayed concerns that have been associated with the derby in the past, including theories that it has caused some participants to suffer performance declines in the second half of the season.

“That’s always conjecture, as far as I’m concerned,” Maddon said. “Let him go play. Let him continue to be the great athlete that he is, put his wares on display. And it’s good for MLB.”

Ohtani will be the seventh Angels player to participate. The club has had three players win the competition — Wally Joyner, as a co-champion with Darryl Strawberry in 1986; Garret Anderson in 2003; and Vladimir Guerrero Sr. in 2007 — trailing only the New York Yankees for most all-time.

And Ohtani’s appearance, especially in Denver’s high elevation that helps the ball carry, could become another signature moment during a season that has already been full of them for the two-way star.

“You just have to tune in and watch the excitement that surrounds it,” Maddon said. “Even if you’re not a baseball person ... you’re going to see stats about, ‘This guy has done this pitching this year. He’s already hit 20-something home runs. He’s stolen bases.’ At some point you gotta go, ‘Whoa, that’s a little bit different.’ The scope of it is incredible.”


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