Dan's Dugout: Injured Ohtani Race to Rookie Award • Latino Sports

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Dan’s Dugout: Injured Ohtani Race to Rookie Award

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Just as Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres are trying to outdo each other in a stretch-drive sprint to the American League’s Rookie of the Year award, along comes Shohei Ohtani.

Again.

Hours after he was recommended for Tommy John surgery Wednesday, the slugging pitcher delivered a pair of home runs in his alter ego as designated hitter.

Shohei Ohtani had his second two-homer game Wednesday night

The first player since Babe Ruth to have at least 15 home runs and 50 innings pitched in the same season, the Angels rookie missed thee months while nursing a barking elbow. He returned to the mound Sunday but lasted less than three innings. Then came the diagnosis all pitchers fear.

Faced with an operation that would keep him sidelined until 2020, Ohtani decided his could still help his team as a designated hitter.

Boy, was he right!

In Wednesday night’s game, he hit two singles and two home runs.

A rookie imported from the Japanese major leagues, Ohtani smiled widely all night. And why shouldn’t he?

He must have felt like the horse that escaped before the barn door slammed shut. In Wednesday’s 9-3 win against the Texas Rangers in Arlington, he went 4-for-4 with four runs scored and three runs batted in. Batting third in manager Mike Scioscia’s lineup, Ohtani reached base in all five plate appearances, with a walk accompanying those hits, and raised his batting average to .285 and his OPS (on-base plus slugging) to .697.

Coupled with his 4-2 record and 3.31 ERA as a pitcher, he’s back on track in the rookie race. If he wins, he’ll join Hideo Nomo (1995), Kazuhiro Sasaki (2000), and Ichiro Suzuki (2001) as stars from the Japanese major leagues who were Rookies of the Year in Major League Baseball.

Like Ruth, Ohtani is a lefthanded hitter who bats third, generates enormous power, and plays the outfield. But unlike Ruth, he is a righthanded pitcher.

During his tenure with the Nippon Ham Fighters of the Japanese Pacific League, Ohtani went 42-15, posted a 2.52 ERA, and threw a pitch registered at a league-record 102.5 miles per hour. He also wore the same No. 11 as Yu Darvish, who preceded him to the U.S. majors.

Ohtani missed the World Baseball Classic in 2017 because of ankle surgery the previous October but managed to jump across the Pacific after the Angels signed him as a free agent on December 8.

A rare two-way player, Shohei Ohtani is a strong Rookie of the Year choice

Five days later, however, he was diagnosed with a first-degree UCL sprain in his pitching elbow – an ominous warning of bigger problems to come.

The Opening Day DH against the Oakland Athletics, he singled in his first at-bat. He hit his first U.S. homer April 3, then connected for two more in his next two games. That made him the first Angels rookie ever to do that.

At 6’4″ tall, spread over a 203-pound frame, Ohtani has the same build as Houston ace Justin Verlander. He also has a similar over-the-top delivery – when he’s able to pitch.

When hand blisters or a barking elbow don’t interfere, the man teammates call Showtime is a formidable presence on the mound. He retired the first 19 hitters he faced on April 8, finishing with seven scoreless innings, but his troublesome elbow sent him to the disabled list two months later.

Returning strictly as a hitter, he enjoyed his first two-homer game on August 3, against the Cleveland Indians. But he didn’t pitch again until September 2 – three days before team doctors recommended Tommy John surgery.

With the Angels just four games from elimination in the American League West title chase, there’s no rush to get Ohtani back to the mound. But, unless his succumbs to the surgery, his pitching days might be over.

Injured or not, don’t count him out in this year’s rookie race. Even with a bad elbow, he swings a bat packed with plenty of power.

Team trainers, doctors, and coaches have all winter to figure out the next step in the Ohtani saga.

So far, it’s been in an interesting ride.

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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