It’s Shohtime

As spring training ended, the word on the Angels' Japanese-import phenom Shohei Ohtani wasn't exactly encouraging. From all appearances, the engaging young man with the rep as a two-way player unseen since you-know-whom was going to struggle with major league pitching and against major league pitchers.

The hunger to sign him and the splash when the Angels won the contest was going to turn into a faucet drip while everyone with explicit interest tried to figure out how they could have been so wrong. He couldn't get that wipeout slider and that lethal splitter past minor league hitters. His swing was off balance enough to give him challenges against fastballs and tie him up against curve balls.

That was then. And, then, the season began in earnest. After Ohtani first played in the final exhibition against the Dodgers. After the 23-year-old tried a new system of balance, shenking the leg kick he often used in his swing and also turning his front ankle just so. And all the scouts who knew he had to adjust just couldn't figure out how he did it almost overnight.

Ohtani also staggered observers just enough in his first pitching start of the season, against Oakland. He shook off one 3-run inning to strike out 12 in six and keep the Athletics otherwise off their swings. It wasn't necessarily a virtuoso start otherwise, but Ohtani did show the kind of makeup that keeps managers from reaching too soon for the antacids unless they happen to be managing against him. He made it seem like you could pry six runs out of him and he'd still find a way to beat you.

Then, Ohtani stepped up to the plate for the first time in Angel Stadium in regulation play, against the Indians. And, with two on in the bottom of the first — an inning in which Mike Trout clobbered his first bomb of the season and Kole Calhoun singled home Justin Upton to tie things at two — he drove Josh Tomlin's curve ball, the kind of curve that turned him into a knotted rope in spring training, into the right center field bleachers. That only began the Angels' eventual 13-2 drubbing.

The next day, facing defending Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, Ohtani struck again in the bottom of the fifth. Once again, the Angels were in the hole, 2-0. With Andrelton Simmons aboard and two out. And he turned on a 1-1 service and drove it over the center field fence.

Ohtani wasn't even close to finished. The following day, with the Angels in the hole 6-0, Ohtani squared up Oakland starter Daniel Gossett, again with two outs, and hit it over the center field fence. If nothing else, the consensus seemed to be — when not marveling at the two-way kid dialing nine in three straight games as the Angels' designated hitter — that one way to contain Ohtani just might be to make damn sure he doesn't get to hit with two outs.

The A's got some relief when Ohtani was given the day off to prepare for his series-ending Sunday afternoon start. That was the only relief they got against him. He took a perfect game through six and a third innings and eleven more punchouts, before Marcus Semien ruined him with one out in the top of the seventh with a clean base hit through the hole at shortstop. He shook that and a followup walk off to get a nubber in front of the plate that he picked clean and threw to first to get Khris Davis. Then, he retired the side by striking out Matt Olson on a full count.

The Angels hung in to win, 6-1. Only Ohtani was the talk of the game. Again. He was the talk of the first week and a half of the season. Some even whispered that if only Semien hadn't found the hole at shortstop Ohtani might have completed the perfecto and knocked Bo Belinsky out of the Angels' record book for being the earliest Angel rookie to pitch any kind of no-hit/no-run game. (Belinsky did it in his fourth major league start, in 1962.) He was named the American League's Player of the Week for his trouble.

Spring training struggles? What were those? We can't remember. Can we? When he pitches like Tom Seaver and hits like Mike Schmidt? Not just major league performances but conversation pieces.

Ohtani's major league career is barely two-weeks-old. He has a 2.08 earned run average, a 1.73 fielding-independent pitching average, and a 0.46 walks/hits per inning pitched rate. He also has a .389/.421/.889 slash line, good for a 1.310 OPS. And he's almost one complete win above a replacement level player.

This is what the Angels get for not letting the naysayers get to them during Ohtani's spring struggles. That kind of patience rewards handsomely even if, in their heart of hearts and in those of any realistic observer, this kind of two-way tear can't last forever.

But then enough of us thought spring had exposed Ohtani as flawed badly enough, too. In two weeks he's made fools of enough of us. And, made the Angels — as my friend Howard Cole of Forbes observes — a little more interesting to watch than the Dodgers.

Angel fans hope it lasts all the way to October at minimum. The rest of the American League West — in which division the Angels at this writing are one measly game behind the defending world champion Astros — may have considerably different hopes. Ways to keep Ohtani from making fools of them are probably in the top five on their priority lists.

Because, however long it lasts, it's Shohtime.

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