Every time Shohei Ohtani stepped to the plate Friday night, he was showered with boos at Safeco Field.
Seattle Mariners fans figured their team was the front-runner this offseason to sign the 23-year-old who has been called the “Japanese Babe Ruth” because he can both hit and pitch.
The Mariners, after all, had traded some of their top prospects to acquire the most international bonus money to entice Ohtani. Nintendo, the Japanese electronics and video game company, owned the Mariners for nearly 25 years and still has a minority stake.
Plus, the Mariners have a history of Japanese stars, most notably Ichiro Suzuki.
When Ohtani signed with the Los Angeles Angels, it hurt some feelings in the Pacific Northwest.
“I’m not really used to being booed,” Ohtani said Friday through an interpreter. “It was probably my first time, so it felt kind of awkward and a little weird.”
Ohtani, who missed his last pitching start with a mild left ankle sprain, threw a 30-pitch bullpen session Friday and was given a clean bill of health. Angels manager Mike Scioscia announced Ohtani would start the series finale Sunday afternoon against longtime Mariners ace Felix Hernandez (4-2, 4.89 ERA).
“He feels good,” Scioscia said Saturday of Ohtani. “He had a great bullpen. He came out of (Friday night’s game as the designated hitter) with no residual effects, so he’s good to go.”
Ohtani is 2-1 with a 4.43 ERA in four starts this season. In 20 ? innings, he has walked nine and struck out 26.
It will be his first start on the mound since April 24.
“It’s been awhile since my last start, so I’m a little anxious,” Ohtani said. “But I just have to concentrate. This is going to be my next big test.”
Ohtani lived up to the hype in April, when he was named the American League’s Rookie of the Month. In addition to his pitching exploits, he batted .359 with four home runs and 12 RBIs.
Suzuki, 44, who re-signed with the Mariners during spring training before transitioning into a front-office role last week, downplayed any comparisons between the two.
“I can’t even compare myself to him because he’s doing something that isn’t going to impact just Japan or here, I think people in the whole world are interested in how he’s going to do because he’s doing both,” Suzuki said through an interpreter. “To have somebody have that kind of impact and excitement, he’s going to impact a lot of people. It’s a big difference. He’s doing both.”
Suzuki, who still takes batting practice and works out with the Mariners and hopes to return for the team’s season-opening series in Tokyo next year, said he was as interested as everyone else to see the newcomer.
“I was very excited to watch him play for the first time in person,” Suzuki said. “I can’t be in the dugout, so maybe today is the day I pull a Bobby Valentine (and put on glasses and a fake mustache).”
Ohtani will be facing Seattle for the first time, while Hernandez is 16-16 with a 3.36 ERA in 51 career starts against the Angels.