The spotlight was on Shohei Ohtani even before his Angeles played Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium.
The two-way star, who is set to become the biggest free agent in MLB history following this season, took batting practice on the field, something he almost never does, and sent balls flying all over the park.
It continued in the top of the first, when the 28-year-old sent a 116 mph bullet into the Yankees’ bullpen in right-center for his fourth homer of the season.
“I’ve never seen a player like him go into free agency,” Aaron Judge said after Ohtani and the Angels beat the Yankees, 5-2. “He’s one of the top hitters in the game and one of the top pitchers in the game. Combine that with [being] a great all around athlete, it’s gonna be exciting to watch, and I’m excited to see where he goes.”
Then Judge added, “I hope he likes … I’m excited to see where he goes.”
Asked if he were trying to recruit Ohtani to The Bronx, Judge said: “No, not yet. They’ve got something special in [Anaheim], and I’m just gonna admire him from afar right now.”
Judge was no doubt thinking back to spring training five years ago, when he inadvertently got the attention of MLB by saying he had told Manny Machado — who was approaching free agency — he “would look good in pinstripes.” Judge, who was mildly reprimanded by the league at the time, didn’t make the same mistake on Tuesday.
Ohtani didn’t have much to say about New York or Yankee Stadium.
“It’s a beautiful field,” Ohtani said through an interpreter. “[They have] passionate fans. I always look forward to playing here. It’s really fun playing here.”
Asked what he does when he’s in the city, Ohtani said: “I haven’t stepped outside the hotel.”
His manager with the Angels, Phil Nevin, isn’t looking too far ahead when it comes to Ohtani’s future, but he believes he’d be successful no matter where he ends up.
“I don’t want to think about it,” Nevin said when asked how Ohtani might fare in a large market like New York. “He’s ours right now. He’s a great teammate and player. We’re lucky to have him and hopefully we have him for a long time.”
But the reality is, he’s set to hit the market after this season. And on the heels of Judge landing a nine-year, $360 million deal to remain with the Yankees last offseason, the number for Ohtani figures to be astronomical.
Wherever he ends up — according both Nevin, who was on Aaron Boone’s coaching staff in The Bronx for four seasons from 2018-21, and Angels hitting coach Marcus Thames, another longtime Yankees coach — Ohtani would excel.
“The best way I could put it is that he would thrive anywhere,’’ Nevin said. “Even with the off-field stuff, the endorsements, he’d be fine. It’s not gonna bother him whether he’s in a big market or small market.”
Thames, in his first season with the Angels and Ohtani, agreed.
“I’ve been around a lot of guys and he’d be OK,’’ Thames said. “The way he carries himself, nothing bothers him.”
Entering Tuesday, Ohtani was just 5-for-41 (.139) with three homers, 13 strikeouts and an OPS of .661 in The Bronx. The only place he has had as many at-bats and hit as poorly is Seattle (.651 OPS).
And he has been even worse on the mound, though Ohtani won’t isn’t scheduled to pitch this series. In two career starts, the right-handed pitcher has allowed 11 earned runs and three homers in just 3 ²/₃ innings (27.00 ERA). That’s compared to a 1.95 ERA in 34 starts in Anaheim.
“He hasn’t pitched well here and he hasn’t hit much, but it’s a small amount of games,’’ Nevin said. “I’m not worried about it. His swing was made for here, with that lefty swing, he should be able to shoot liners out to right.”
That’s just what he did on Tuesday.
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