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OC Register: Tales of Shohei Ohtani’s greatness demonstrate why Angels believe he can repeat magical season

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Shohei Ohtani is about to begin the seemingly impossible task of living up to the standard he set for himself.

When Ohtani takes the mound for the Angels on Opening Day on Thursday night, while also in the lineup as the designated hitter, he will do so as the reigning American League Most Valuable Player.

Ohtani is coming off a historic season in which he was baseball’s most successful two-way player since Babe Ruth. He blasted 46 home runs with a .965 OPS while pitching to a 3.18 ERA in 23 starts.

The MVP was one of a string of awards, everything from the Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award to the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year to a spot on Time magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2021.

“I’m sure expectations are a little higher than last year this time around,” Ohtani said through his interpreter last week. “Trying to meet those expectations is something I’m shooting for.”

Whether Ohtani can repeat his performance is not only the most intriguing question surrounding the Angels but the most fascinating storyline in the sport.

At the start of spring training, he suggested his goal was to do better, as unlikely as that seems.

“I wouldn’t bet against it,” pitching coach Matt Wise said. “He’s driven and focused and prepared. As physically regimented as he is, he is very dialed in on every aspect of his baseball life.”

You don’t have to drill very deep to get to the reason for the Angels’ confidence in Ohtani. They have been watching him do amazing things for years.

A canvassing of the clubhouse in search of the best Ohtani stories yielded plenty of descriptions about his ability to pull the perfect English word at just the right moment, do a spot-on imitation of a teammate or rule the bumper pool table.

Mostly, though, his teammates and coaches are still in awe of what he does on the baseball field.

Enjoy a sampling of some of the Angels’ best Ohtani anecdotes.


Mike Trout’s favorite Ohtani story is one that is now legendary around the club. In 2018, Ohtani’s first spring training in the majors, he arrived in camp with a leg kick. His at-bats didn’t look good, as he struggled to adjust to major-league pitching.

“He grounded to second base every at-bat in the spring,” Trout said. “They had a talk with him to go to a toe tap or get rid of the leg kick. The transition, how fast it was for him to master, it was the craziest thing for me.

“If I went from a leg kick to what he did, it’s almost impossible.”

Ohtani ditched the leg kick during the Freeway Series, just before Opening Day. He hit .125 in spring training, with no homers. He then hit .341 with four homers in his first month in the majors.


In the last week in Arizona, the Angels were facing the Chicago White Sox in a Cactus League game, and the players were going over the scouting reports on right-hander Vince Velazquez. There wasn’t enough data on Velazquez to give any indication of how he liked to start hitters.

Outfielder Brandon Marsh turned to Ohtani and said: “First pitch goes out today.”

Ohtani stepped into the box and got a first-pitch curveball from Velazquez, and he hit it over the fence in right-center.

“For him to be in swing mode on the first pitch of the game?” right-hander Michael Lorenzen said. “First pitch of the game he gets a curveball and hits a home run? Vince Velazquez is one of my good friends. That would not make me feel good about myself. … I don’t know if that’s ever happened.”

There were 70 homers hit on first-pitch curveballs in the majors last season, but there hasn’t been one on the first pitch of the first inning since at least 2007, which is as far back as the data goes.

“He came into the dugout and just looked at me and put his hands up,” Marsh said. “That’s just him being better. He’s a beast.”


In the winter of 2019-20, left-hander Patrick Sandoval was among the players running sprints on the field at Angel Stadium.

Ohtani and his interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, came out to the field to throw. Ohtani, who was just a few months removed from knee surgery, was curious.

“I don’t know if he had warmed up or anything,” Sandoval said. “He walks out and sees us running and has this smirk and says something. Ippei says he wants to try it.

“So he straps in and just bolts. We were doing like 18-19 mph at our top speed. Our strength coach just looks at the iPad and starts laughing. He says that was 21 mph. Just rolled out of bed.”


Outfielder Jo Adell worked out with Ohtani all winter, including time at Driveline’s Arizona facility. For one of their drills, they were hitting special balls that are slightly smaller than regulation balls.

“Usually you can get an extra 5-6 mph (of exit velocity),” Adell said. “I saw him hit one 127 mph in the cage. It flashed across the screen and I’m pretty sure it broke it. It was out of this world. You don’t see numbers like that.

“Then he threw a bullpen that day.”


A couple of Angels singled out Ohtani’s performance on Aug. 18, 2021 against the Tigers in Detroit.

Ohtani threw eight innings while allowing one run. He struck out eight and didn’t walk any. He also hit his 40th homer of the season, leading the Angels to a 3-1 victory.

“Ohtani just single-handedly won that game,” catcher Max Stassi said.

Wise was more impressed by the way Ohtani used his repertoire over the efficient 90-pitch outing.

“His hardest split was 93 and his slowest fastball was 89,” Wise said. “His hardest fastball was I think 100 (actually 98.8 mph). The ability to add and subtract with multiple pitches, and maintain command and shape of pitches is something I’ve never seen anyone come even remotely close to.”


Ohtani’s pitch usage was highlighted in a game against the Oakland A’s last September, too.

Ohtani had always been known for his devastating splitter, but he’d thrown it only about 20% of the time for most of the season. In the days leading up to his Sept. 19 start against Oakland, Ohtani told Stassi: “Hey, I’ve got a new pitch. My splitter’s better now.”

Ohtani ended up throwing the pitch 57 times in that game, by far the highest percentage of splits he’d thrown in the big leagues. The A’s whiffed at 18 of their 38 swings at the pitch.

“It was just a hybrid that will do everything,” catcher Kurt Suzuki said. “Sometimes it would cut. Sometimes it would sink. Sometimes it would stay straight. And it was like 90 mph. It was hard. It’s so crazy when he can spin the ball. He’s insane.”

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