Shohei Ohtani was set for a history-making start on Sunday as one of the only MLB pitchers to bat for himself in a game with a designated hitter available. Madison Bumgarner, a two-time Silver Slugger Award winner, was the last to do it, in 2016. Bumgarner went 1-4 with one strikeout and one run scored in a 12-6 victory against the Oakland Athletics on June 30.
The 2018 Rookie of the Year excited fans by throwing 100+ mph heaters while blasting a solo home run in the first inning to give the Angels an early lead against the visiting Chicago White Sox on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball broadcast.
While Ohtani would strike out seven White Sox batters over the course of his 4.2 inning outing, he did suffer from some control issues. With three free passes already billed to his name in the 5th inning, Ohtani walked both Adam Eaton and José Abreu to load the bases with two outs. Leury García would then score the first run for the White Sox on a wild pitch with Abreu and Eaton advancing to 2nd and 3rd base, respectively. While Angels manager Joe Maddon had previously hinted that Ohtani was nearing the end of his anticipated pitch limit during an in-game interview with the ESPN broadcast team, Maddon allowed the Halos starter to remain in the game even after walking the reigning AL MVP Abreu.
Yoán Moncada then stepped in against the two-way star, representing Ohtani’s final opportunity to secure credit for a potential Angels victory. Moncada struck out on a splitter dropped by catcher Max Stassi, who ran toward the backstop to chase down the ball and throw to first to complete the out. Stassi failed to record the out after his throw bounced behind first baseman Jared Walsh. Eaton scored on the play. David Fletcher‘s return throw to Ohtani, who was covering home plate, went wide. After making a jumping attempt to pull down the throw, Ohtani took a hard fall when a sliding Abreu collided with his shin. Abreu scored to tie the game at 3-3.
Shohei Ohtani was forced to leave the game after being slid into at home during this fluke play. pic.twitter.com/vMurRAHsgo
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 5, 2021
Ohtani was replaced by veteran reliever Steve Cishek, who recorded the final out of the inning. The Angels front office later provided an update that Ohtani was suffering from some general soreness but was not removed from the game for injury purposes.
Angels say Ohtani is fine. General soreness, will be reevaluated tomorrow. Wasn't removed for injury purposes, Angels say.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) April 5, 2021
While it is encouraging that the Angels’ young star does not seem to have any leg or ankle problems resulting from the collision, the decision to allow him to remain in the game to face Abreu and Moncada is questionable. 2021 will be Ohtani’s first full season of pitching since undergoing Tommy John surgery. The 5th inning walks should have been enough evidence of fatigue for Maddon to remove him from the game. I believe that the Angels manager wished to build Ohtani’s confidence by allowing him to pitch out of the jam and finish off his night on a high note. However, pitching in a high-leverage situation places additional stress on the arm and the collision could also result in lingering soreness.
Ohtani’s unique talents have generated major interest from fans which is significant for MLB’s viewership as the US looks forward to the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although Ohtani has requested a longer leash this year, the Angels and Maddon need to take care with their star to ensure he has a long and successful future, not just for their team’s sake, but also that of the league.
After a blown save by closer Raisel Iglesias, the Angels eventually walked off the Chisox on Walsh’s three-run homer in the 9th inning, his second of the night, winning by a score of 7-4 (box score). The Halos will next host the Houston Astros for two games beginning tonight at 9:38 PM ET. Former Chicago White Sox and Cubs pitcher José Quintana will face Luis García in the divisional matchup.
Featured Image: Iconic oversized Angels baseball cap at the entrance to Angel Stadium, home of Major League Baseball’s Los Angeles Angels, by Ken Wolter / Shutterstock.com.