TEMPE – On the other side of Diablo Stadium, in a parallel universe, baseball’s biggest circus is at full calliope. The designated hitter is batting eighth, which is weird enough, except he’s also probably the last starter in a six-man rotation, which is revolutionary.
The Angels have made these accommodations for the singular Shohei Ohtani because they won the lottery.
Of course, the Rangers, the team in another universe, would have gladly signed up for the same.
Bartolo Colon has seen plenty in his two decades shuttling around the game, and even he doesn’t get it.
“He looks like he’s going to be a good hitter,” Colon said when asked what he thought of Ohtani, who singled off him in the second on a fastball down and in that caught too much of the plate.
“But it’s up to them to make the decision whether he’s going to pitch and play.”
No, no, Bartolo, that decision has already been made. Ready or not, Ohtani will pitch and play, or this grand experiment will look like a big, fat bust.
Going into Sunday’s game, Ohtani’s spring hadn’t exactly inspired confidence in the coronation that preceded him. At the plate, he was 1 for 11 with three walks and four strikeouts. As Yahoo’s Jeff Passan noted after consulting eight scouts at a game last week, the numbers weren’t as concerning as the mechanics. Their consensus was that he needs about 500 at bats in the minors, at minimum, to work out the kinks that come with a 6-foot-4 working model.
Meanwhile, on the mound, where he’s considered to have the most potential, Ohtani has been curiously short. Friday, against the Tijuana Toros, a Mexican League team, he gave up six runs in three innings, including a bomb by a 33-year-old journeyman. Ohtani’s fastball, clocked at 99 in Japan, never exceeded 95. ESPN’s Keith Law judged his slider an “absolute wipeout pitch” but was less impressed with the rest of the repertoire.
“This is not the Shohei Ohtani we were promised,” Law concluded.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: Given the modest price and the Rangers’ prospects, they’d have taken even a mini-me version of the Japanese Babe Ruth. No question about it. If they had to make concessions to fit Ohtani’s larger-than-life profile, so what? They’re contemplating some version of a six-man rotation themselves.
And if hitting means disturbing Shin-Soo Choo’s routine two or three times a week, the union shouldn’t expect any complaints.