Shohei Ohtani is back on a baseball field doing things that simply haven’t been done before.
For the first time since the early part of 2018, Ohtani’s debut season with the Angels, Ohtani appears to be fully healthy. As Fabian Ardaya documented at The Athletic, Ohtani spent the entire offseason reshaping his physique, taking his body to the next level, and, most importantly, preparing with a full slate of health. Injuries have already played a big role in the early part of the 26-year-old’s career, evidenced by his 2018 Tommy John surgery, season-ending knee surgery in 2019, and arm issues in 2020. Now, Ohtani looks better than ever.
The Ohtani hype has slowly built up for the past week or so, starting with Ohtani hitting 100 mph in his bullpen last weekend. That hype hit its’ apex this week, starting on Wednesday when Ohtani (the hitter) stepped to the plate for his final appearance of the day. Ohtani saw a high fastball, nearly at his shoulders, and pulverized it over the batter’s eye at Tempe Diablo Stadium. The ball traveled a projected 468 feet, nearly 20 feet farther than his farthest home run in the majors (449 feet in 2018).
48 hours later, Ohtani was on the mound against an Oakland lineup with many of their regulars. It was very apparent early on that Ohtani’s stuff and mechanics were drastically different from the 2020 version. In the first inning, Ohtani mainly utilized the fastball and the velocity was back in a big way. According to many of the Angels beat writers and Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs, Ohtani’s fastball sat 96-99 mph and touched 100 mph.
The second inning was just as exciting, if not more exciting. Ohtani started to diversify his pitch mix and brought the vintage splitter out in full force. Ohtani threw perhaps the nastiest splitter we’ve seen from him and the pitch went full-Pitching Ninja and blew up on the Twittersphere. With the upper-90’s heat, diving splitter, and sharp breaking ball, Ohtani finished his day with five punchouts.
In a matter of two days, the optimism around Ohtani skyrocketed. This 48-hour stretch was reminiscent of Ohtani’s dominant week in 2018, where he clobbered home runs at the plate and flirted with perfection on the mound. Regardless of these being Spring Training games, it was a welcomed sight for an Angels team that would kill for the two-way stardom of Ohtani in 2021. We can only hope that this is a sneak peek of what’s to come for Ohtani in the coming year(s).