Shohei Ohtani returns to the site of his Major League Baseball debut as both a power hitter and a starting pitcher, when the Los Angeles Angels visit the Oakland Athletics to open the 2023 regular season Thursday night
The matchup features Ohtani, Mike Trout and a mostly familiar Angels looking to end an eight-year postseason drought against another new A's edition seeking to lay the foundation for future success
The right-handed Ohtani (15-9, 2.33 ERA in 2022) is scheduled to make his second consecutive Opening Day start. He was the loser last year at home against the Houston Astros despite allowing just one run in 4 2/3 innings with nine strikeouts. The Astros won the game 3-1.
Looking to erase memories of last year's 73-89 season, the Angels lined up their Opening Day plans early by announcing Ohtani as the starter not long after spring training started. Ohtani finished fourth in the American League Cy Young Award balloting last season
The 28-year-old, who can become a free agent at the completion of his current one-year, $30 million deal, went just 2-2 despite a 1.09 ERA in four starts against Oakland last year. He held the A's to just 14 hits with 28 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings.
He is 4-4 in 10 lifetime starts against Oakland, including his first MLB start in his fourth career game at Oakland in April in 2018, when he got the win with six innings of three-hit ball. He was the team's designated hitter in the 2018 season opener at Oakland, recording a hit in five at-bats in his first MLB action.
Ohtani, one of the heroes of Japan's championship run in the recently completed World Baseball Classic, hopes his personal momentum carries over into the Angels' season
"When I saw the faces of my teammates for the first time in a while, I felt like I want to win a title with this team, too," Ohtani said through an interpreter.
Ohtani is expected to be backed in the field Thursday by at least two newcomers -- shortstop Gio Urshela and first baseman Brandon Drury. Regular first baseman Jared Walsh will open the season on the injured list after experiencing headaches and insomnia.
Urshela, who played with the Minnesota Twins last year after three years with the New York Yankees, won the Opening Day nod at shortstop after hitting .382 in the spring with a .417 on-base percentage. Drury had two homers among his 12 spring hits.
The A's selected left-hander Kyle Muller as their Opening Day starter.
Acquired as part of the package when Oakland dealt catcher Sean Murphy to the Atlanta Braves in December, Muller (1-1, 8.03 ERA in 2022) has never faced the Angels in his two seasons. In fact, he's gone head-to-head with just two AL teams -- the Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers
The decision to start Muller meant avoiding a potential matchup of Ohtani and countryman Shintaro Fujinami, who will pitch only on Saturdays to begin his MLB career.
James Kaprielian, another member of the Oakland starting staff, was excited to see an improved A's offense in the spring, one that teed off on the rival San Francisco Giants for 12 runs in the exhibition finale Monday.
"Guys are hammering the ball," Kaprielian said. "When you're sitting on the bench and you just hear a crack of the bat, I mean, it's exciting. Anytime you have an explosive offense, it does take a little bit of pressure off the staff and the bullpen."
--Field Level Media