ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays head west this week, and besides reunions with old friends Joe Maddon and Alex Cobb in Anaheim, they’ll get a firsthand look at what might be the greatest show in baseball right now: the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani.
The 26-year-old from Japan is living up to his billing as a dominating two-way player, dealing on the mound — going 1-0, 3.29 in three starts (despite a slight blister issue) — and swinging well at the plate — hitting .283 through Friday while ranking among the league leaders with eight homers, 19 RBIs and a .972 OPS.
“I saw the other day that he was the first person since Babe Ruth to pitch and lead the league in homers as well,” Rays infielder Mike Brosseau said. “It should be a good show. They call it ‘Sho-tani’ right? He’s a physical specimen. I’ve heard he’s way bigger than he looks on TV. It’ll be exciting. I think his work speaks for itself. Just to see it in person, I’m definitely looking forward to that.”
The Rays will see the whole package, as Ohtani is scheduled to start Monday’s opener of the four-game series (and potentially hit for himself, as Maddon allowed him to do in two of his three starts) and DH at least some of the others. (Ohtani pitched against the Rays once, beating them in 2018 before his Tommy John elbow surgery and has a .345 average against them with two homers in eight games.)
Rays pitcher Tyler Glasnow is a pretty good athlete himself but said Ohtani — listed at 6 feet 4, 210 pounds — is in a class by himself.
“He’s a freak,” said Glasnow. “What he’s able to do on the mound as far as control and his eye-hand coordination as a hitter is pretty unbelievable. He’s like a once-in-a-generation-type talent, for sure. I enjoy watching him a lot. I’m a huge fan.”
Another Ray who likes seeing Ohtani is first baseman Yoshi Tsutsugo, who didn’t cross paths with him much when both were in Japan.
“It’s really enjoyable watching him play,” Tsutsugo said via team interpreter Brian Tobin. “He’s really good at both pitching and hitting, so obviously, as you can tell, he’s a great player.”
As the Rays own’ two-way prospect, Brendan McKay can relate best to what Ohtani is accomplishing.
“Absolutely,” McKay said. “That game he started in Anaheim (April 4), he throws 101 (mph) in the first inning and then he hits a 115 mph home run. It’s great to see that, where a guy can pretty much match what he’s doing on the opposite sides of the ball.”
McKay, by the way, said recovery from August labrum surgery has been going well.
He has been hitting since spring training, well enough that he will be on the active roster at Triple-A Durham to get DH and pinch-hit at-bats. He said he has been relishing the chance “to put on a jersey and play in a game that means something.” (He also played first at some alternate site camp games but was under strict orders to not throw, which wouldn’t work in regular-season play.)
And he has been throwing increasingly competitive bullpen sessions, up to 35 pitches with a break in between, and will soon face hitters in batting practice.
“Overall, I feel like I’m progressing well,” McKay said, “and hope to be back sometime soon.”
• Ryan Yarbrough can want to be a starter, but the numbers are becoming overwhelming that he is better behind an opener. In 33 starts, he is 5-14, 4.61; in 50 relief outings, 24-5, 3.47.
• So are the Rays fortunate the Yankees aren’t playing better and leading the AL East, or is it the other way around?
• Having top shortstop prospects Wander Franco and Taylor Walls both at Triple-A Durham makes for a logjam, but the Rays will have them share time there and also get some time at second and third base.
• The Rays aren’t likely to be in any hurry to promote Franco, who is 20, hasn’t played above Class A and was limited to camp workouts in 2020 with the minor-league season canceled. But it’s still probably a good time for current shortstop Willy Adames to get hot.
Pitcher Luis Patino made history last Sunday, the first Rays player younger than the franchise — the team’s first game was March 31, 1998; Patino was born Oct. 26, 1999. …. Shane McClanahan was certainly impressive in his regular-season debut, but ESPN’s Jeff Passan may have gone a little far in tweeting “the Rays rookie is primed to be the hardest-throwing left-handed starter in big league history.” … Ashley Buzzy McHugh, wife of current Rays and former Astros reliever Collin McHugh, tweeted Friday: “not gonna lie, don’t really get rays fans booing the astros when they’re down 9-0 in a home game but go off. ... like you don’t have to cheer. or really anything. it’s the ninth inning you could absolutely also leave.” … Attendance in pandemic times is hard to context, but aside from games at minor-league parks in Dunedin and Williamsport, Pa., the Rays-A’s 2,924 on Tuesday and 2,981 Monday are the smallest crowds since 2002 when the Expos were in — Montreal. … With more than 85 percent of the players and staff receiving at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, the Rays are in line to have protocols relaxed in late May. ... Astros manager Dusty Baker, managing his first games at the Trop since 2011 with Cincinnati, said the roof and rings make for “probably the greatest homefield advantage I’ve been around since (the Twins played in the Metrodome).” … In their first 26 games, the Rays were at .500 eight times. … Wander Franco was the only Ray on Jim Bowden’s list of must-see prospects for The Athletic, noting his 80 grade as a hitter “means evaluators think he will lead the league in hitting and/or on-base percentage at some point in his career.” … Franco and the rest of the Triple-A Durham Bulls play at Jacksonville (Miami’s Triple-A team) May 25-30. … In mocks of the other big draft (which starts July 11), the Rays are predicted by Baseball America to use the 28th pick on outfielder Jay Allen (of Fort Pierce’s John Carroll Catholic High) and by mlb.com on UC Santa Barbara right-hander Michael McGreevy. … McClanahan’s warm up song was Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Simple Man. … Commissioner Rob Manfred tossed out $2.2 billion as the potential fee when the league expands, which he has said previously won’t be until after the Rays and A’s get their stadium issues resolved.
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