By Shawn Moran
TEMPE — Baseball fans have been waiting all winter to see what Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani could do on an MLB stage. After signing with the Los Angeles Angels in December, the fireball-throwing starting pitcher and off-day designated hitter has had a media circus following his every move. That did not stop at Tempe Diablo Stadium on Saturday when the Angels took on the Milwaukee Brewers.
The player who has been compared to Babe Ruth in his home country finally had the chance to showcase his skills to an American crowd. At the team store kiosks throughout the concourse, fans could choose between purchasing a Mike Trout or Ohtani jersey. When first introduced as the starting pitcher over the loudspeaker, Ohtani entered to a raucous ovation from the thousands of Angels fans in attendance.
“He brings a lot more hype and attention to the Angels and now they’re going to get the recognition that they deserve,” lifelong fan and Anaheim native Brandon Vega said. “We’re in the shadows of the Dodgers back home in L.A. so it’s nice that he’s kind of put them back on the map and everyone is talking about them.”
“It’s pretty exciting seeing such a big star from overseas come over,” Angels diehard fan Chris Giesick said.
Ohtani was replaced after throwing 31 pitches in 1 1/3 innings that included two strikeouts, two hits, a walk and a home run given up in an inconsistent first showing. He walked off the field to an ovation from Angels fans in the stadium. Although he was expected to start the first two innings, the Japanese pitcher’s day ended quicker than the team anticipated when he racked up a 6.45 ERA.
Manager Mike Scioscia’s morning press conference included approximately 30 credentialed media members from Japan. Scioscia has grown accustomed to a lot of attention on his team and did not see much difference in this year’s media following. He is evaluating Ohtani the same way he would any player.
“I think the expectations are a little different for us,” Scioscia said. “Any pitcher you like to see once they get out there and start getting the games, evaluating their stuff and working off of that to make some adjustments. We’re looking at Shohei the same way as we are any other pitcher.”
Shortly after newly elected Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero threw out the ceremonial first pitch, it was time for Ohtani to make his long-awaited United States debut.
The 23-year-old, five-time Nippon Professional Baseball All-Star followed that up with a long first inning that included a ground-rule double, an error, a walk and two strikeouts before the bullpen started to warm up.
Angels outfielder Justin Upton noted before the game that it would take some adapting before the young right-hander starts producing like a star.
“It obviously is an adjustment for him to make, and the faster he makes that adjustment to the hitters here, I think he’s going to be pretty effective,” Upton said.
Scioscia still believes that all of his players, including Ohtani, will be prepared for the start of the regular season at the end of March. “There’s other ways to get to that spot to where they’re ready to start the season. These guys will be ready,” he said.