There seemed to be no way Shohei Ohtani could live up to the hype — after all, at just 23, he has been called a modern-day Babe Ruth, a threat both at the plate and on the mound. But so far, Ohtani is delivering: He struck out 12 batters on Sunday, after hitting home runs in three games last week.
It's still early, but the Japanese star is generating the kind of stats that people in America's big leagues last saw around 100 years ago. In four starts as a designated hitter, Ohtani has knocked in seven runs, going 7 for 18. He also has two wins as a pitcher.
Making his second start as a pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday, Ohtani was perfect through the first part of the seventh inning against the visiting Oakland A's. He sat down the first 19 batters he faced before giving up Oakland's first hit — a single by Marcus Semien. Ohtani then walked a batter, but he recovered to end the inning on a strikeout, and the Angels went on to win, 6-1.
"I was conscious of the no-hitter, but I wasn't really thinking about the perfect game," Ohtani said, according to MLB.com. "I figured they were going to get a hit sooner or later. Once I gave up that hit, I was going to react and try to reset everything."
A quote like that about a near-perfect game is relatively rare from any baseball player. Coming from a rookie who also hit homers in three consecutive games, it's unheard of.
"Ohtani is the first Major League player with two wins and three home runs in his team's first 10 games since Jim 'Grunting Jim' Shaw for the Washington Senators in 1919," MLB says.
This was the second time the A's have seen Ohtani in the regular season. A week ago, he gave up three runs and struck out six batters — good enough to earn his first MLB win. This time around, he dominated in front of a huge Angels home crowd, using an assortment of fastballs that topped out at more than 99 mph and split-finger pitches that kept the A's hitters off balance.
"He just went out there and did what he does very well," said Angels Manager Mike Scioscia, a former MLB catcher. "That's as good a game as you can ever see pitched."
As a pitcher, Ohtani's record is 2-0, with an ERA of 2.08 in his young Major League Baseball season. He throws right-handed and hits from the left side of the plate.
As a hitter, Ohtani has already sent a home run ball screaming out of the batter's box at more than 112 mph. And each of his homers has been longer than the last, including a 400-foot blast against Corey Kluber, the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner. While Ohtani confounded Oakland from the mound to finish their series on Sunday, he started this series on Friday night as the designated hitter, smashing a homer some 449 feet.
Before he signed with the Angels in what many U.S. teams treated as a lottery contest last year, Ohtani had already amazed baseball fans in and outside Japan, where he was a power pitcher for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. As a hitter, he once launched "a baseball through the roof of the Tokyo Dome," as member station KPCC reported in February.
When the 2018 MLB season started, the superhuman expectations for Ohtani had been tempered a bit by his decidedly human spring training, when he endured a deep hitting slump and pitched to a 27.00 ERA. The list of people who are surprised by the regular-season Ohtani seems to include the pitcher and slugger himself.
"Especially how my spring training went, I wasn't really imagining being this good, to be honest," Ohtani said, according to MLB. "But I feel better every day. I feel like I'm getting more used to everything more and more each day. It's just the first week. Everything went well, but I'm pretty sure I'm going to hit a wall somewhere on the road. Once I hit that wall, then that's where I need to start working harder and figure out how to get past that wall."
Given his explosive start, some are now wondering whether Ohtani, or the Angels, might have been using some gamesmanship, trying to ease him into the big leagues. Those fans and analysts can be forgiven for thinking that when it comes to Ohtani, nothing can be taken for granted.