Red Sox get an introduction to Angels rookie sensation Shohei Ohtani

ANAHEIM, CA - APRIL 08: Shohei Ohtani
ANAHEIM, CA - APRIL 08: Shohei Ohtani /

The Boston Red Sox will get their first glimpse of Los Angeles Angles two-way star Shohei Ohtani, the rookie from Japan who is taking the league by storm.

The first west coast trip of the season takes the Boston Red Sox to Southern California to take on the Los Angeles Angels this week. This series pits the teams that currently have the American League’s best records against each other. While the Angels boast the best player in baseball, former MVP Mike Trout isn’t the one generating the buzz leading into this series. All eyes are on rookie Shohei Ohtani.

The two-way star from Japan was one of the biggest mysteries in Major League Baseball entering the season. His talent was enticing but how would it translate to the big leagues? Could he thrive as a pitcher and as a hitter? The early returns have been promising on all fronts.

Ohtani is 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA through his first two starts. He’s been equally impressive at the plate, batting .367/.424/.767 with three home runs in only 33 plate appearances. If there were any doubts about his ability to adjust to playing in the States, Ohtani has quickly put them to rest.

The Angels had their game in Kansas City postponed on Sunday, followed by a scheduled off day. That pushed Ohtani’s next start to Tuesday against the Red Sox.

Ohtani has dazzled on the mound in his two starts, both against the Oakland A’s. He produced a quality start by lasting six innings in his debut, allowing three runs and striking out six. He followed that by blanking the A’s over seven innings in which he allowed only one hit and struck out 12. Oakland’s offense has been solid to begin the year but nobody considers their lineup to be a juggernaut. The Red Sox will provide Ohtani with the steepest test of his career.

Boston ranks second in the AL in runs scored and OPS, trailing only the Angels in both categories. Their .347 wOBA and 122 wRC+ both rank third in the league.

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Ohtani has dominated opposing hitters with a blazing fastball that hits the upper 90’s, setting up his filthy splitter. His 23.5 swinging strike percentage leads the majors among pitchers with a minimum of 10 innings this season. He has struck out 40 percent of the batters he’s faced, the third highest rate among starting pitchers.

The Red Sox are one team that may pose a problem for Ohtani. No team strikes out at a lower rate than Boston’s 16.6 K%. Only three major league teams have a lower swinging strike rate than Boston’s 9.3 SwStr% this season. This is not the type of lineup that will feed into Ohtani’s strengths.

Only the Angels have been better at the plate than the Red Sox this season. Ohtani’s bat has been a significant part of their success but his offensive production may be limited in this series. The Angels don’t follow National League rules by having their pitcher hit. They will likely deploy Albert Pujols as the designated hitter when Ohtani is on the mound. Ohtani has routinely been given the day off after he pitches, so we can expect he’ll be out of the lineup Wednesday as well. The Red Sox may only have to face a lineup featuring Ohtani once in this series.

Los Angeles still has a strong lineup without Ohtani but they will be without one of their top hitters against David Price on Tuesday. Price left his last start after only one inning when he felt a sensation in his left hand. He claims he’s fine now and still expects to take the mound to open this series in LA.

Next: Red Sox Prospect Watch

Let’s hope the only time we hear the word “sensation” tonight is when someone describes Ohtani rather than anything related to the status of Price’s pitching hand.