Two days after making Major League Baseball history simply by trotting out to second base, right-hander Shohei Ohtani will return to the pitcher’s mound for the first time in almost two years when he leads the Los Angeles Angels against the host Oakland Athletics on Sunday afternoon.
He will be opposed by A’s right-hander Mike Fiers.
The American League West rivals have split the first two contests in their four-game series, with the Angels rebounding for a 4-1 victory on Saturday afternoon after the clubs had opened the season with a historic finish, one that produced a 7-3 A’s win in 10 innings.
Ohtani played a role in the memorable events late Friday night, first by striking out with the bases loaded and the score tied at 3-3 in the top of the ninth inning.
By virtue of having been the final out of the ninth, Ohtani was the Angels player designated to open the top of the 10th on second base as part of extra-innings, speed-up rules being tested by MLB this season.
The Angels did not score in the 10th, in part because Ohtani was nailed attempting to advance from second to third on Jared Walsh’s inning-opening groundball to A’s first baseman Matt Olson.
The A’s in turn took advantage of beginning the last of the 10th with Marcus Semien on second, eventually loading the bases with one out before Olson skied his walk-off slam just over the wall in right field.
Ohtani did not play in Saturday’s win, rested for Sunday’s start. It will be his first start on the mound in a regular-season game since Sept. 2, 2018, when he succumbed to elbow pain in the third inning of a game at Houston. He subsequently underwent Tommy John surgery.
He was used only as a designated hitter and pinch hitter last season, and served as the Angels’ DH on Friday night, going 1-for-5.
Ohtani told reporters recently that he returns to the mound with a different mindset.
“(In 2018), I just wanted to give everything I got and see how my stuff fared against the big leaguers,” he admitted. “But now I’m more focused on to see how much I got back to where I was before surgery.”
Ohtani went 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA in 10 starts in 2018, his rookie season in MLB. He made his first two starts against the A’s, including his United States debut at Oakland, earning the win in a 7-4 victory with six innings of three-hit, three-run ball.
He also saw the A’s seven days later in Anaheim and was much more effective in a 6-1 win, throwing seven shutout innings with one hit allowed and 12 strikeouts to one walk.
He’s 2-0 in his career against the A’s with a 2.08 ERA in 13 innings, striking out 18.
Ohtani has never gone head-to-head with Fiers, who has gone 20-6 with a 3.86 ERA since joining the A’s in 2018. His career record in Oakland is 13-3 with a 3.04 ERA.
Fiers has faced the Angels 14 times in his career, 13 times as a starter, going 6-4 with a 4.99 ERA.
A’s manager Bob Melvin left the ballpark Saturday hoping his hitters can give Fiers more support than they offered Saturday’s starter, Sean Manaea.
“When you only score one run,” he expressed to reporters, “sometimes a couple of hitters on the other team can dictate where the game goes.”
–Field Level Media