MESA, Ariz. -- Shohei Ohtani featured an upper-90s fastball and a wipeout splitter in his spring pitching debut Friday, a 41-pitch outing that seemed to validate the Los Angeles Angels' hopes that he can contribute as a two-way player this season.
Ohtani, pitching two days after unleashing a 486-foot home run to straightaway center field, struck out five of the 10 Oakland Athletics batters he faced, the last three on splitters that dropped well below the strike zone.
The right-hander issued two walks, gave up three hits -- two of which went for extra bases -- and was removed with two outs in the second inning because the Angels had set a 40-pitch limit. But Ohtani was around the strike zone far more frequently than during his short pitching stint last summer, and he displayed a cleaner, more repeatable delivery, which Angels manager Joe Maddon said he was hoping to see.
"The big thing for him -- the success is gonna be repetition of delivery and knowing where his fastball is going consistently," Maddon said postgame. "If that occurs, he's really gonna take off."
Ohtani, 26, has acted as a two-way player for only two months over the past three years, in April and May of his 2018 rookie season, before sustaining the torn ulnar collateral ligament that necessitated Tommy John surgery. He spent the rest of the 2018 season and all of 2019 serving as the Angels' primary designated hitter, then struggled in his return to two-way action during the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season. Ohtani made only two rough starts before straining the flexor-pronator mass near his surgically repaired elbow, limiting him to hitting only.
After the season -- he batted .190 and had a 37.80 ERA -- Ohtani underwent an aggressive offseason regimen in which he got into more game-like situations as a hitter and pitcher, revamped his diet and workout schedule and sought advice from third parties, including, sources said, experts at the renowned baseball facility Driveline. Ohtani's progress showed during the workout portion of spring training and is now manifesting itself in game settings.
Ohtani, speaking through his interpreter, said he mistakenly started "cutting" some of his pitches while overthrowing with runners in scoring position, but he was pleased with his splitter as an out pitch and he believes his velocity will continue to rise as the season progresses.
Maddon has said he wants to ease some of the restrictions, such as when Ohtani's turn comes as part of a six-man rotation rather than on a certain day each week. Maddon also is open to the possibility of putting him in the lineup the day after his start, which hadn't been the case.
"The big thing was to put him in charge of his own career and not try to dictate so much to him, permit his athleticism to take over and not be so concerned about getting hurt," Maddon said of the reasoning behind more aggressive usage. "He's done this in the past, he should know himself better than we do, and we did not want to create these limitations or set guidelines that we didn't know if they would work or not."