TEMPE, Ariz. — Shohei Ohtani‘s spring training pitching debut is one that he’ll file under “learning curve.”
Ohtani took the mound with plenty of hype and a “B” lineup in the field behind him in Saturday’s game between the Los Angeles Angels and Milwaukee Brewers. He labored with his control and threw 31 pitches — only 17 of them strikes — before departing with one out in the top of the second inning and the score tied 2-2.
Ohtani, who became a star in his early 20s with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters and earned the moniker of “Japan’s Babe Ruth,” is trying to achieve a rarity with the Angels this season as a starting pitcher and part-time designated hitter. He’s been followed by waves of Japanese media this spring, and a larger-than-usual crowd was in the stands at Tempe Diablo Stadium for his Cactus League debut.
After Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero threw out the ceremonial first pitch, Ohtani took the mound with Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky” playing over the stadium loudspeakers. Brewers shortstop and leadoff man Jonathan Villar worked the count to 3-1 before driving a double over Eric Young Jr.’s head in straightaway center field, and Milwaukee took a 1-0 lead on a walk, a wild pitch and a throwing error by Angels catcher Martin Maldonado.
The Angels came back to take a 2-1 lead before Keon Broxton lined a home run to left field off Ohtani to tie the game 2-2. After Nick Franklin flied out to left field, Angels manager Mike Scioscia went to the mound and lifted Ohtani. The crowd gave Ohtani a warm ovation as he walked off the mound, and he exchanged high-fives with several teammates in a crowded Angels dugout.
Ohtani appeared over-amped in his debut and struggled with fastball command while burying several breaking pitches in the dirt. His most impressive sequence came against Brett Phillips in the first inning, when he elicited “oohs” from the crowd with a slow curveball, then caught Phillips looking at a fastball for strike three.
Ohtani was clearly the main attraction for the Angels, who held out most of their top position players against Milwaukee. Maldonado and first baseman Luis Valbuena were the only regulars in the starting lineup Saturday.
The Angels have yet to indicate when Ohtani will make his first appearance as a designated hitter in Arizona, but they’ve said he will not be in the lineup as a DH the day before or after he pitches. So the earliest he can DH is Monday against the San Diego Padres at the Peoria Sports Complex.
Ohtani gave the Angels a tantalizing preview Thursday, when he launched several home runs over the scoreboard and the center field batting eye at Tempe Diablo. He hit .286 with a .500 slugging percentage over five seasons with Nippon.
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Masahiro Tanaka returning to Japan after 7 seasons with New York Yankees
After seven years with the New York Yankees, free-agent right-hander Masahiro Tanaka announced Thursday he will return to Japan to pitch for the Rakuten Golden Eagles in the Nippon Professional Baseball League.
“I have decided to return to Japan and play for the Rakuten Eagles for the 2021 season,” Tanaka wrote on Twitter. “I wanted to make sure and touch base with you, and thank you for all the love and support you have given me for the past 7 seasons.”
“I feel extremely fortunate for having the opportunity to take the field as a member of the New York Yankees, and play in front of all you passionate fans. it has been an honor and a privilege! Thank you so much!!”
— 東北楽天ゴールデンイーグルス (@Rakuten__Eagles) January 28, 2021
The 32-year-old, coming off a season in which he missed some time after being hit in the head by former Yankees teammate Giancarlo Stanton‘s shot during live batting practice, just completed the final year of a $155 million, seven-year deal.
A two-time All-Star selection, the Japanese right-hander spent all seven of his MLB seasons as a Yankees starter from 2014-20 and has been one of the most consistent starting pitchers in the majors over that span, going 78-46 in 173 starts.
Tanaka posted a 3-3 record with a 3.56 ERA — down from 4.45 in 2019 — in 10 starts during the pandemic-shortened season of 2020.
Tanaka was found to have a partially torn ligament in his pitching elbow during the 2014 season, and from then on the Yankees tried to give him extra rest between starts at times. He made a $22 million base salary in both the 2018 and 2019 seasons and $23 million in 2020.
Tanaka pitched well in the playoffs during his time in the Bronx, going 5-4 with a 4.18 ERA, 44 strikeouts and 15 walks in 10 starts over 54 innings. He had his best postseason run in 2017 when he went 2-1 with a 0.90 ERA, 18 strikeouts and three walks in 20 innings during the Division Series against Cleveland and League Championship Series versus Houston.
Prior to joining the Yankees, Tanaka was 99-35 with a 2.30 ERA in seven seasons with the Rakuten Golden Eagles, striking out 1,238 in 1315 innings.
Toronto Blue Jays finalizing trade for New York Mets’ Steven Matz
Matz, a 29-year-old left-hander, agreed to a $5.2 million, one-year deal with the Mets in December.
That deal came after he had the poorest of his six seasons, going 0-5 with a 9.68 ERA while earning $1,851,852 in prorated pay from a $5 million salary. He was dropped from the rotation after starting 0-4 with a 9.00 ERA in five starts, then made three relief appearances along with a spot start.
Matz is 31-41 with a 4.35 ERA over 107 career starts and five relief appearances.
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