Column: Shohei Ohtani proves in opener he’s capable of surpassing his MVP season feats

Angels pitcher Shohei Ohtani throws a pitch against the Houston Astros.
Angels pitcher Shohei Ohtani throws a pitch against the Houston Astros in the first inning at Angel Stadium on Thursday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

A season Shohei Ohtani predicted would be better than the last started in failure. Ohtani didn’t just lose a decision Thursday night. He was also hitless in four at-bats of a 3-1 defeat to the Houston Astros at Angel Stadium.

And somehow, the disappointment of what happened was overwhelmed by the anticipation of what could happen.

Ohtani really could improve on his MVP season last year, in which case the Angels really could make the playoffs.


With spring shortened three weeks because of baseball’s lockout, manager Joe Maddon removed Ohtani from the Angels’ season opener after only 4 2/3 innings.

MLB approved the use of the anti-sign stealing device PitchCom, but some Angels players are not sure when they’ll start using it this season.

April 7, 2022

Ohtani threw only 80 pitches, but what he did with those 80 pitches was the story.

He struck out nine batters.

He walked only one batter.

He limited the Astros to one run.

“Shohei, again, nothing’s too quick for him, nothing’s too big for him,” Maddon said.

The key was in the details.

His fastball was in the 97-99 mph range from the start of the game to when Maddon replaced him with Aaron Loup.

The challenge Ohtani presents to opposing hitters was especially evident when he struck out the side in the fourth inning, punching out Yuli Gurriel with a 97-mph fastball, Kyle Tucker with a 79-mph curveball and Jeremy Pena with an 84-mph slider.

“He looks very confident to me right now,” Maddon said.

Ohtani’s optimism wasn’t diminished by the result.

Angels pitcher Shohei Ohtani is taken out of the game.
Angels pitcher Shohei Ohtani is taken out of the game in the fifth inning at Angel Stadium on Thursday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Ohtani reflected on his final at-bat with some regret, a flyout to right field with two outs, a runner on third base and the Angels behind 3-1 in the bottom of the eighth inning.

“If I had hit when I had to at the end, the result could have been different,” Ohtani said in Japanese.


He said he initially thought the ball was headed over the wall, as was also the case on a sixth-inning popup.

“I didn’t get the results I wanted, but I was satisfied with the quality of the at-bats,” he said.

And he continued to look as if he were enjoying himself on the field.

Asked about how he smiled after freezing former batterymate Martin Maldonado for a called third strike, Ohtani said, “He had no intention of swinging, so I wondered what was going on.”

He smiled again.

He smiled, too, when asked about how his interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, received a louder ovation during the pregame introductions than most of the players.

“He was showing off, so it kind of irked me,” Ohtani joked.

Even with a healthy Mike Trout in the lineup, the Angels are held to four hits and struggle against Houston’s Framber Valdez in 3-1 loss.

April 7, 2022

The magnitude of what Ohtani is doing came to focus during those introductions.

“Leading off …” public address announcer Michael Araujo’s voice blared over the sound system.

“Our starting pitcher …

“Warming up in the bullpen …

“No. 17 …

“Shohei Ohtani!”

What was most striking about the moment wasn’t that Ohtani was about to become the first player in history to throw his team’s first pitch of the season and be in the batter’s box for the first pitch delivered by the other team.


What was most striking was how routine this remarkable moment felt.

Think about that: Over the six months of his MVP season, Ohtani normalized what was once unimaginable. He did so to where his claim that he could post better numbers this year than his groundbreaking season sounded entirely reasonable.

“The ceiling’s unbelievable with him,” Mike Trout said. “You never know what he’s going to do. Nothing really surprises me anymore.”

It’s not only sufficient but necessary now for the Angels to play October baseball now that Mike Trout is in his prime.

April 8, 2022

Ohtani has already changed the perception of the Angels.

The longstanding regrets about how Trout couldn’t play in the postseason because he was on the Angels have been replaced by growing expectations they will be one of the 12 teams to make the expanded playoff field.

“I think they’re going to be good,” an executive from another team said.

The Angels won only 77 games last year, but they won 77 games in a season in which Ohtani, Trout and Anthony Rendon were in the lineup together for 17 games.

If Ohtani can pitch how he did Thursday night, if $21-million lottery ticket Noah Syndergaard can pitch close to how he did when he was on the New York Mets, if the heavily fortified bullpen performs as expected, why couldn’t they win another eight or nine games this year and reach the playoffs?

“Our goal is to win our division,” Maddon said. “That’s our goal. That’s the first part of making the playoffs.”


The Angels are 0-1, but they could be on their way.