SAPPORO, Japan >> Los Angeles Angels-bound Shohei Ohtani bid farewell to fans of his former Japanese club on Monday as he sets off to join his new team.
The star pitcher and hitter wore an Angels jersey to his public news conference. He opened with an introduction in English, saying: “Long time, no see. I’m Shohei Ohtani. Welcome to my press conference. Please enjoy.” The Sapporo Dome crowd erupted in laughter and applause.
For five seasons, Ohtani called Sapporo home, playing for the Nippon Ham Fighters. He intends to be a starting pitcher and everyday hitter with the Angels.
Ohtani, the reigning Pacific League MVP, threw one final ceremonial pitch from the Sapporo Dome mound.
He spurned other major league offers to join two-time MVP Mike Trout and slugger Albert Pujols. The Angels are coming off their second consecutive losing season and haven’t won a playoff game since 2009.
Ohtani was 3-2 with a 3.20 ERA while slowed by thigh and ankle injuries. But those numbers don’t indicate the potential for a pitcher whose fastball has topped 100 mph.
Scouts are more divided on Ohtani’s ability to consistently hit big-league pitching. He hit .332 in 65 games with eight homers and 31 RBIs last season, occasionally unleashing the tape-measure blasts that captivated prospective teams.
In 2016, Ohtani hit .322 with 22 home runs and 67 RBIs in 104 games. He also was 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA.
Ohtani will attempt to chart a rare career path, the majors’ first regular two-way player in decades. He has drawn numerous, if unfair, comparisons to Babe Ruth, who excelled as a hitter and a pitcher early in his Hall of Fame career.
The Angels plan to use Ohtani as a hitter and a pitcher, and the 23-year-old player said Monday he is confident he can succeed in both in a more challenging environment.
Since joining the Angels this month, it was revealed that Ohtani injured the elbow of his pitching arm at the end of this past season. A leaked medical report sent to all MLB clubs showed a Grade 1 sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament and he received a platelet-rich-plasma injection in October.
But the injury is not considered serious and Japanese media reports last week showed Ohtani taking batting practice and throwing long toss.
The Angels have said they are not concerned and they expect Ohtani to be ready for spring training.