Shohei Ohtani will be on the mound for the Los Angeles Angels on Thursday night against the Toronto Blue Jays in Anaheim, Calif., and that means the two-way player could be ready for a big night in the batter's box.
Ohtani is batting .251 with nine homers and eight doubles this season, but he is hitting better when he is also in the game as the pitcher. Despite going 0-for-5 at the plate the last time he pitched on May 18, Ohtani is batting .300 (9-for-30) in games when he has been the Angels' starter.
During one stretch of three starts on the mound (April 20, April 27 and May 5), Ohtani was 7-for-13.
Last season, however, Ohtani was much better at the plate when he wasn't pitching, hitting 43 of his 46 home runs when he was the designated hitter. He batted just .214 in the games he pitched.
Ohtani (3-2, 2.82 ERA) also seems to have regained velocity on his fastball that dipped a little a couple starts ago. On May 11 vs. the Tampa Bay Rays, his fastball topped out at 96 mph, but in his last pitching appearance on May 18 against the Texas Rangers, he touched 100 mph on the radar gun.
"I didn't really change much," Ohtani said through an interpreter, "but maybe my arm's just getting used to all the stress."
Ohtani has faced the Blue Jays once in his career, getting a victory last August when he allowed two runs and three hits in six innings.
Left-hander Hyun Jin Ryu (1-0, 6.00 ERA) will make his fifth start of the season for the Blue Jays. He is coming off his best start and his only victory, when he threw six scoreless innings against the Cincinnati Reds on Friday.
Ryu missed a month because of a sore left forearm, but he has eased concerns in the two starts since his return, allowing just one run in 10 2/3 innings.
"He's back to himself," Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo said. "He's commanding his pitches, he's throwing his breaking pitches for strikes. And when you see that, that's when he pitches well. That's what he's done in his last two starts."
The matchup between Ohtani and Ryu is a big story in Japan and South Korea, respectively, as their home countries are bitter sporting rivals. Ryu has never faced Ohtani either on the mound or at the plate, but he has had success against Angels center fielder Mike Trout.
Trout is 0-for-10 with four strikeouts against Ryu, who is the only pitcher in the majors to have held Trout hitless in a minimum of 10 at-bats.
He is coming off one of his worst games -- 0-for-4 with four strikeouts on Wednesday as the Texas Rangers beat the Angels 7-2 to earn a split of a two-game series. It was just the ninth time in his career that Trout has fanned four times, but three of those have come this month.
Angels manager Joe Maddon, though, doesn't worry about Trout, no matter who the pitcher might be. Trout's even-keel approach works for him and has a positive effect on his teammates, according to Maddon.
"He's got a low voltage and he's just there all the time and when you need him, he kind of pops up," the manager said. "It's great for the rest of the group. It's like a safety valve or guard that he's there. He's quietly having an outstanding year."
The Blue Jays open play in Anaheim after an off day that followed a two-game split against the host St. Louis Cardinals. Toronto earned an 8-1 win on Wednesday behind two homers from Danny Jansen and one long ball from Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
--Field Level Media