Baseball: Ohtani to focus on his pitching on 2022 Opening Day

Los Angeles Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani may have two roles to cover, but first he is going to focus on his pitching when 18 of the 30 MLB teams play their first games of the regular season on Thursday.

Ohtani, who will be both pitching and hitting on Opening Day, was able to shut out the noise in 2021 as baseball's biggest attraction -- the first two-way star since Babe Ruth -- and he plans to repeat the trick when he gets on the mound this week.

"I'm in good shape. I feel even stronger about winning," Ohtani told reporters before the Angels' last spring training game on Tuesday.

"Firstly I want to focus on that first pitch. I want to focus on the batter in front of me," he said.

Ohtani will face the Houston Astros at home to open the season on Thursday as part of a four-game series, and then likely the Texas Rangers in Texas a week later.

Entering his fifth season with the Angels, Ohtani will be making the first Opening Day start of his MLB career. The 27-year-old Japanese has started on Opening Day twice in his home country, in 2015 and 2016, for the Nippon Ham Fighters.

The 2021 season was Ohtani's first fully healthy season on both sides of the ball, when he went 9-2 as a pitcher while hitting 46 home runs.

In the upcoming season, the "Ohtani Rule" will allow Ohtani, or any other starting pitcher, to remain in the game as designated hitter even if he is pulled for a relief pitcher.

The 99-day lockout delayed the spring training reporting date this year by nearly a month and resulted in the cancellation of 10 to 12 games from each team's spring training schedule.

MLB delayed Opening Day from March 31 to April 7 to give players more time to get ready, but players will be opening the regular season with a limited ramp-up period.

Still, Ohtani said he is up to speed schedule-wise and his confidence level is where it was last year.

"I feel like my preparation process has been the same as any other year. I've had fewer games and at-bats during spring training, but it's the same with everyone else so if you look at it that way I've gotten enough practice."

© Kyodo News