Ohtani is the first pitcher and starts the season

ANAHEIM – Shohei Ohtani made history once again on opening day.

Ohtani, the reigning American League MVP, became the first player in AL/NL history to throw his team’s first pitch of the season and face his team’s first pitch of the season in as a hitter. Ohtani dazzled on the mound — allowing a run on three hits in 4 2/3 innings with nine strikeouts — but ended in a 3-1 loss to the Astros on Thursday in front of a sold-out crowd at the Angel Stadium. He also went 0 for 4 at the plate, including as a two-out tying run in the eighth, to hit a high ball to the right to end the inning.

“My splitter was all over the place, but I felt good with my fastball, curveball and slider,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “I had a chance in my last at bat to tie the game, but I didn’t make it, which was disappointing. On the pitching side, I felt like the pitch count was high and it didn’t keep me in the game any longer.”

The two-way superstar made his first career start on Opening Day as a pitcher, knocking out Jose Altuve to start the game en route to a scoreless first inning despite allowing a single and a standing hitter. He also batted the first pitch for the Angels, rapping Framber Valdez’s first pitch short and nearly beating a field single. It hit 29.7 feet per second on its way to the first, which is just a tick below the 30 feet per second considered elite by Statcast.

That means Ohtani was the first Angels player to take the mound this season — and the first Angels player to step into the batting box. He left the mound with two out in the fifth after throwing 80 pitches. Thanks to “Ohtani’s rule”, he stayed in the game as the designated hitter and had two more at-bats.

“Overall, I was pretty happy with how I felt at bat, even though the results weren’t there,” Ohtani said. “My last time at bat, I almost forgot I pitched and felt like the DH.”

On the mound, he unbalanced Astros hitters throughout his outing, including striking out Altuve three times. He became just the fourth pitcher to knock out Altuve three times in a game, joining Matt Cain, Zack Greinke and Max Scherzer. His nine strikeouts also tied for fourth most in Angels history on Opening Day.

He settled down after a first set that saw him hit at least 98 mph with his fastball 14 times, including a heat-up 99.8 to open the game. He found himself in a groove, striking out four in a row, but gave up a two-out double to Michael Brantley and an RBI single to Alex Bregman with Jo Adell’s throw halfway between first base and the marble.

“You saw the gun tonight with a lot of 97s and 99s,” manager Joe Maddon said. “In the past, at the start of the game, the numbers were lower until he needed them. “He still does those things. His slider and curveball were good but he snagged a few lunges. Bregman had a hanging lunge and that usually doesn’t happen.”

Ohtani set up again, including knocking the team out in the fourth. He saw Yuli Gurriel watching a 98mph fastball, Kyle Tucker swinging on an 80mph curveball and Jeremy Peña swinging on an 84mph slider. He gave up a brace to Chas McCormick in the fifth on a misplayed fly ball by Adell and came out after pulling out Altuve for the third time for the second out. Left-hander Aaron Loup came in and retired Brantley to end the inning.

“I had to pull him out of there after 80 throws because that was kind of our number limit,” Maddon said. “He should have worked really hard to get that last one out. And Wolf did a great job. But then again, nothing is too fast or too big for him.”

Ohtani, 27, is coming off a season that saw him post 46 home runs, 26 stolen bases and 100 RBIs as a batter last season, while posting a 9-2 record with a 3.18 ERA and 156 strikeouts as a pitcher. And he said he believed he could be even better this year.

“What he did last year should boost his confidence, I imagine, and he seems very confident this year,” Maddon said. “The way he’s doing it, he’s in a moment and he’s under control.”

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