Ohtani strikes out 5 in spring mound debut for Angels

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Shohei Ohtani threw some fastballs past a few overmatched hitters and froze a couple more with well-placed breaking balls.

If Monday’s first spring outing is any indication, the two-way Los Angeles Angels star is only getting better on the mound. Ohtani struck out five batters while giving up one run on three hits over 2 1/3 innings against the Kansas City Royals.

“He picked up right where he left off,” Angels catcher Max Stassi said. “He put a lot of hard work in during the offseason and he’s in a much better place going into this year, understanding the two-way stuff, what he needs to do.

“His stuff looked really refined. As good as last year, if not better.”

Last year’s American League MVP was sharp in the first, getting a called strike on his first pitch to Kansas City’s Kyle Isbel and then earning the strikeout by blowing a high fastball past the left fielder three pitches later.

He retired seven of the 11 hitters he faced. Edward Olivares hit a one-out single in the first inning and JaCoby Jones was hit by a pitch in the second. The Royals scored their run in the third when Isbel’s sinking line drive got past a diving Brandon Marsh for a triple. Olivares drove him in with an RBI single up the middle, which ended Ohtani’s afternoon.

“The last two hits I gave up were sliders down the middle, so that’s something I need to work on,” Ohtani said.

Ohtani threw 50 pitches, including 33 strikes. He was expected to throw about 45 pitches.

The 27-year-old Ohtani is trying to duplicate one of the most productive and unique seasons in MLB history. The 6-foot-4, 210-pounder turned into one of the game’s best pitchers and hitters on the way to earning unanimous MVP honors.

Ohtani’s spring progress — especially because of the abbreviated schedule due to the lockout — will be watched closely since he has arguably the most unique role in baseball.

After three years of stops and starts due to injuries and caution, the Angels finally unleashed Ohtani last season, allowing him to be a full-time hitter and pitcher with few restrictions. The production was stunning: He was one of the game’s most feared power hitters with 46 homers, 26 doubles and eight triples, throwing in 26 stolen bases for good measure.

He was also outstanding on the mound, finishing with a 9-2 record and 3.18 ERA in 23 starts, striking out 156 batters in 130 1/3 innings.

Ohtani’s amazing individual season wasn’t able to lift the Angels to the playoffs in 2021. The team finished with a disappointing 77-85 record.

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