DENVER — The Shohei Ohtani Show kicks into high gear Tuesday at Coors Field for MLB’s annual All-Star Game.
For the first time since the inaugural game in 1933, one player will be the starting pitcher and in the starting lineup as a hitter. It’s pretty incredible stuff, the reward for a pretty incredible first half of the season for Ohtani, the Angels’ best hitter and best pitcher. In fact, MLB has agreed to tweak the game rules to maximize Ohtani's time on the field.
And his fellow players are thrilled to see the spotlight shine on Ohtani.
“I think it’s great,” Rangers slugger Joey Gallo told Sporting News on Monday. “He should be (the focal point). First of all, it’s great marketing because he’s such an exciting player, he does both. He’s a humble guy. He’s easy to root for, even when you’re playing against him. I’m glad he’s getting the focus. He should.”
Let’s take a look at what’s on tap today.
Why is Shohei Ohtani a big deal?
Let’s start here.
No player in the American or National leagues has ever done what Ohtani is doing this season, starring as both a hitter and a pitcher. There have been players who have been stars as both hitters and pitchers in their careers, but nobody — not even Babe Ruth — has excelled at both facets of the game, to this level, in the same season.
"It’s just so impressive,” Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge said. “He’s pitching during the season, he’s hitting every single day. To come here, do the Derby, start the game, be hitting for us, it’s just incredible what this young man’s doing.”
As a hitter, Ohtani leads MLB with 33 home runs in 84 games. He leads the AL in triples (4), slugging percentage (.698) and total bases (210). And, oh yeah, he’s stolen 12 bases.
As a pitcher, Ohtani has 87 strikeouts in 67 innings. He has a 3.49 ERA in 13 starts — one awful start in New York inflated that number; his ERA is 2.58 in his other 12 starts — and the Angels are 8-5 in games he’s started.
"What he's been doing is amazing," Nationals star Juan Soto said. "He can do everything. What he's been doing this year is just unbelievable."
Why did MLB bend the rules for Ohtani?
Well, first, it’s just an exhibition game. Most rules in games like this are “rules” anyway, more suggestions than hard-and-fast laws.
“This is what the fans want to see,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash, who is the manager for the AL squad. “It’s personally what I want to see. And to have the opportunity to do something that's a generational talent, pretty special.”
Cash recognized this opportunity for what it is, and he acted on it.
“I begged Major League Baseball to tweak the rule for today's game, because if they didn't, I know I'd screw it up the rest of the way, pulling pinch-hitters and DHs,” Cash said. “For this game, we're going to be allowed to use Shohei as two players.”
So how is that going to work?
“He will be the starting pitcher and the DH,” Cash said, “and when he's done pitching, he can remain in the game and then we can transfer in the next DH after his day is over at the plate.”
How long will Ohtani pitch in the All-Star Game?
It’s an exhibition, so the goal is to allow as many stars to take the stage as possible. Though plans haven’t been announced, it seems likely that — with everything else he’s done here in Denver — Ohtani will only pitch the first inning. That’s not atypical. Once upon a time, starting pitchers would throw three innings, but those days are gone.
In the 2019 game, the NL’s Hyun Jin Ryu and the AL’s Justin Verlander only went one inning each. In the 2018 game, Chris Sale threw only the first inning for the AL, and Max Scherzer went two for the NL. In 2017, Sale went two and Scherzer went one.
Yes, if you’re counting, this is Scherzer’s third starting nod for the NL in the past four All-Star Games, which is also super impressive.
How many at-bats will Ohtani get in the All-Star Game?
Because the rules have been bent, we’re expecting to see at least two plate appearances for Ohtani. Otherwise, why even ask for the exception? The AL’s two other DHs are All-Star veterans; this is Nelson Cruz’s seventh All-Star selection and it’s the fourth for J.D. Martinez.
It wouldn’t be shocking to see Ohtani bat three times. What we do know for sure is that his first at-bat will be against Scherzer.
“It would be awesome for me if I could get a hit. I'm 0-for the first half this year,” Scherzer said. “Just the fact that he can pitch; the demands on your body to be a pitcher are intense, to say the least; I can definitely speak to that. So to be able to shoulder those workloads and also be able to hit as well, that's just absolutely incredible. It takes an unbelievable athlete to be able to accomplish that and that's what he is. He's an incredible athlete and that's why I feel like you're seeing some of these historic things come out of this first half and what he was able to do.”
How crazy are the All-Star expectations for Ohtani?
The questions have already started: What if Ohtani doesn’t live up to the hype at the All-Star Game?
Those, frankly, are stupid questions, but they’ve already kicked into gear after he was ousted in the first round of the Home Run Derby by Juan Soto. This, despite that he hit 22 homers in regulation in the first round — Trevor Story advanced in his bracket with just 20, remember — and another six in the tie-breaker round.
At this point, though, some people will complain if he doesn’t strike out every batter he faces — despite facing the best hitters the NL has to offer — or if he doesn’t hit a home run every time he steps to the plate — despite facing the best pitchers the NL has.
Sure, he’d like to live up to those expectations. It’s why he’s taking on so much.
“I'm expecting to be pretty fatigued and exhausted after these two days, but there's a lot of people that want to watch it and I want to make those guys happy,” Ohtani said, through his interpreter. "That’s why I'm going to do it.”
And this is a celebration of what he’s already accomplished, not a litmus test for how good people might think he is. The other players? They know exactly what he is.
“He's must-watch baseball any time he's on the field,” Scherzer said.