The Japanese baseball community was celebrating on Wednesday after former Pacific League MVP Shohei Ohtani followed up his first pitching win in the majors with a stellar batting effort in his home debut with the Los Angeles Angels.
His first pro skipper, Hideki Kuriyama, who six years ago lured Ohtani away from a major league deal by concocting a plan to have him both hit and pitch, said his protege’s three-hit effort, which included a three-run homer in his first at-bat, on Tuesday in Anaheim, California, was to be expected.
“It’s normal for him,” Kuriyama said from Sendai, where the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters were playing the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. “That’s because I have no concerns about his hitting. I’ve been saying he’d absolutely be able to hit.”
Former teammates, too, joined in. Kensuke Kondo, who has taken over Ohtani’s role as the Fighters’ principle designated hitter, told Ohtani by text that everyone had been watching his game.
Kondo followed Ohtani’s lead by having two hits and two RBIs in the Fighters’ 5-2 win, while starting pitcher Hirotoshi Takanashi credited Nippon Ham’s former ace for inspiration.
“He’s made me feel that I too can pitch well,” said Takanashi, who allowed two hits over six scoreless innings against Rakuten.
Former Fighters closer Hirotoshi Masui, who is now with the Orix Buffaloes, said what many were thinking after Ohtani’s rough spring training was followed by an impressive first week in the majors.
“Watching him in the preseason, I thought it must have been really trying for him, but then the season started, he wins as a pitcher, homers as a hitter,” Masui said. “Just as we thought, he’s a monster.”
Former Boston Red Sox closer Koji Uehara, who returned to Japan this spring with his first pro club, the Yomiuri Giants, said injuries — which had slowed Ohtani in Japan-—were the biggest danger to his development in the majors.
“This is really something amazing,” Uehara said. “He does everything at an elite level. I just hope he can avoid injury.”
Chiba Lotte Marines manager Tadahito Iguchi, a key member of the Chicago White Sox’s 2005 World Series championship team agreed with Kuriyama about Ohtani’s hitting potential.
“I’ve thought that if he spent an entire season as a hitter, he would be good enough to win a Triple Crown, so I believe, this reflects his true ability.”