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Wednesday December 8th, 2021 11:24AM

Shohei Ohtani homers, pitches into 5th inning for Angels

By The Associated Press
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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Shohei Ohtani both hit the hardest homer and threw the hardest pitch by a starter in the majors this season in an extraordinary two-way performance for the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday night.

Ohtani pitched and hit in the same game for the first time since moving to the majors, and the Japanese star had memorable moments in both of his endeavors against the Chicago White Sox.

Ohtani hit 100.6 mph with a fastball in the first inning, and his 451-foot homer on the first pitch he saw as the Angels' No. 2 hitter moments later went 115 mph off the bat. Those are both tops this season among starting pitchers and hitters — and Ohtani had a 101.1-mph fastball later.

Ohtani went 1 for 3 at the plate with his massive homer and a hard-hit lineout off Chicago starter Dylan Cease.

Ohtani was excellent in the first four innings of his first mound start of the season, holding Chicago scoreless and allowing just one hit. But his frequent control problems intensified in the fifth, and the White Sox tied it 3-3 during a two-out rally featuring two of Ohtani's five walks and a wild pitch.

Ohtani is just the third pitcher over the last 45 seasons to hit for himself in a game with the designated hitter available. He’s also the first pitcher to bat second for a team since Jack Dunleavy did it for the St. Louis Cardinals on Sept. 7, 1903.

“Don’t you love it?” Angels manager Joe Maddon asked before the game. “This was him deciding that he could do this. ... When he came over, this is what he wanted to do. This is why he signed up. Everybody clamored for him because of this particular reason, so I think it’s important that we give him this opportunity to do that and see how it plays out.”

No Angels pitcher had ever hit for himself in a game with the designated hitter available since the rule was implemented in the AL in 1973.

Despite his control woes, Ohtani nearly escaped the fifth inning when he struck out Yoan Moncada with the bases loaded, but catcher Max Stassi let the pitch get past him for a passed ball and also made a throwing error trying to get Moncada at first.

José Abreu then undercut Ohtani at the plate as he slid home with the tying run, and Ohtani was down on the dirt for a long moment before walking gingerly to the dugout.

Ohtani yielded two hits with seven strikeouts in his longest start since 2018. Just one of Chicago's three runs was earned.

Ohtani is the Angels' everyday designated hitter, but the 2018 AL Rookie of the Year is also attempting a full-time return to the starting rotation. Ohtani made just two starts over the past two years after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

The Angels previously have held Ohtani out of games on the day before and the day after he pitches, but Ohtani also played against Chicago on Saturday night, going 1 for 4 as the designated hitter. The Angels are trying new ways to focus Ohtani's mental approach in his difficult job, and Maddon thinks being in the batting lineup might help his pitcher.

“Theoretically, I thought that would be a residue positive component of him being able to do both,” Maddon said. “Just go pitch, then go hit, go pitch, go hit, just play baseball. ... I do believe conversationally, it does help him doing both.”

Ohtani said on Saturday that he wanted to try pitching and hitting in the same game partly because he might be able to produce offensive support for himself, thereby giving him more confidence and room for aggression as a pitcher. Ohtani hit his first homer of the season Friday against the White Sox, and his shot on Sunday staked him to an early lead.

An AL team hadn't declined to use the DH in a game in which it was available since May 17, 2009, when Maddon's Tampa Bay Rays did it accidentally. Maddon submitted a lineup card with an error, listing two third basemen — which meant Andy Sonnanstine had to hit for himself while Evan Longoria wasn't allowed to play.

The prior time an AL team declined the designated hitter was Sept. 23, 1976, when Ken Brett of the Chicago White Sox batted eighth. The only other time it happened since 1976 was on June 30, 2016, when San Francisco's Madison Bumgarner batted for himself against Oakland in an interleague game.

Although Ohtani's two-way career stalled in the past two seasons, he still became the first player to make starts as both a pitcher and a non-pitcher in three different seasons since Bobby Reis did it for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Boston Bees in the mid-1930s.

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