Angels' Shohei Ohtani to make historic start on mound while batting in the No. 2 spot

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Jack Harris
·3 min read
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FILE - In this Aug. 2, 2020, file photo, Los Angeles Angels pitcher Shohei Ohtani, of Japan, throws during the second inning of a baseball game against the Houston Astros in Anaheim, Calif. Ohtani agreed to a two-year, $8.5 million contract with the Angels on Monday, Feb. 8, 2021, avoiding arbitration. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)
The Angels' Shohei Ohtani will start on the mound and bat second in the order Sunday night against the Chicago White Sox. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

The last time something like this happened, it was a mistake.

On May 17, 2009, Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Andy Sonnanstine was scheduled to pitch. It was a home game, so the designated hitter was available. But by mistake, Sonnanstine’s name was written in Tampa Bay’s batting lineup, hitting third. Too late for the Rays to make a change, Sonnanstine came to the plate three times during his 5⅔-inning start, going one for three with a RBI.

It was the only time in the last 45 years a starting pitcher batted for himself in the starting lineup of an American League game.

This year, it might not be so rare.

Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani will hit and pitch in the same game for the first time in his MLB career Sunday night against the Chicago White Sox, slotted in the No. 2 spot of the lineup for the nationally televised finale of the team’s season-opening series.

Ohtani will be the first Angels starting pitcher to bat for himself in an AL game since the designated hitter rule was implemented in 1973, and the first starting pitcher on any team to bat second in a game since 1903.

It’s the latest step in Ohtani’s path back to a full-time two-way role, the result of the team’s decision to remove restrictions the 26-year-old was once subjected to and instead allow him and the coaching staff to make playing time decisions based more upon how he feels.

“Every time we go through the rotation, we will communicate and try to figure out what he needs in regards to rest,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “And then we’ll make our schedule accordingly.”

Maddon said Ohtani told him leading up to the season he wanted to play in all four games against the White Sox. He has done so this week, beginning his season two for 13 as the designated hitter with a home run, a stolen base and two RBIs.

When he takes the mound for the first time Sunday night, Maddon said he will be following Ohtani’s fastball command closely — something he has struggled with in past seasons and again battled at times this spring.

“Normally he has really good command of his breaking balls, slider, curve and he normally has really good command of his split,” Maddon said. “When the fastball is going where he wants it, these other two pitches, wow, they become really good. So when I’m watching him throw, if he has a good feel for his fastball, that’s when he really pitches deeply into the games.”

Ohtani has made only three starts since June 2018, having undergone a Tommy John surgery later in that 2018 season and getting shut down as a pitcher after only two outings in 2020 because of a forearm strain. Whereas in past seasons he has pitched on a once-a-week schedule, this year he is scheduled to make normal turns through the Angels’ six-man rotation.

The Angels hope it can lead to something the sport hasn’t seen in a century, a player excelling at the plate and on the rubber simultaneously. Sunday will be the first big test. And it will unfold under the bright spotlight of ESPN’s first Sunday Night Baseball broadcast of the year.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.