Shohei Ohtani struggles with control in Angels debut

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Shohei Ohtani's spring training pitching debut is one that he'll file under "learning curve.''

Ohtani took the mound with plenty of hype and a "B'' lineup in the field behind him in Saturday's game between the Los Angeles Angels and Milwaukee Brewers. He labored with his control and threw 31 pitches -- only 17 of them strikes -- before departing with one out in the top of the second inning and the score tied 2-2.

Ohtani, who became a star in his early 20s with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters and earned the moniker of "Japan's Babe Ruth,'' is trying to achieve a rarity with the Angels this season as a starting pitcher and part-time designated hitter. He's been followed by waves of Japanese media this spring, and a larger-than-usual crowd was in the stands at Tempe Diablo Stadium for his Cactus League debut.

"I didn't feel any nervousness," Ohtani said. " felt like I was pitching in Japan again. It's the beginning of the year. It's the first game of the year, and obviously I'm not 100 percent. But I'm going to try and work my way up there."

After Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero threw out the ceremonial first pitch, Ohtani took the mound with Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky'' playing over the stadium loudspeakers. Brewers second baseman and leadoff man Jonathan Villar worked the count to 3-1 before driving a double over Eric Young Jr.'s head in straightaway center field, and Milwaukee took a 1-0 lead on a walk, a wild pitch and a throwing error by Angels catcher Martin Maldonado.

The Angels came back to take a 2-1 lead before Keon Broxton lined a home run to left field off Ohtani to tie the game 2-2. After Nick Franklin flied out to left field, Angels manager Mike Scioscia came out and lifted Ohtani. The crowd gave Ohtani a warm ovation as he walked off the mound, and he exchanged high-fives with several teammates in a crowded Angels dugout.

"He did enough to where we certainly learned some things," Scioscia said. "He and Martin worked some things out, and I think it'll be a step forward next time for him. He threw all his pitches. Some were really what we would expect them to be, and on some of them, he just lost his release point."

Ohtani appeared over-amped in his debut and struggled with fastball command while burying several breaking pitches in the dirt. His most impressive sequence came against Brett Phillips in the first inning, when he elicited "oohs'' from the crowd with a slow curveball, then caught Phillips looking at a fastball for strike three.

Ohtani worked in the mid-90s with his fastball and topped out at 97 mph on the radar gun. The breaking ball to Phillips was clocked at 69 mph.

"He walked in the same way he does when he's about to hit," Maldonado said. "Me personally, I was amped up. I can't imagine how he was. First day out there, you have that feeling in your stomach like you want to go out there. I doubt that he didn't have that."

Ohtani was the main attraction for the Angels, who held out Mike Trout and their other top position players against Milwaukee. Maldonado and first baseman Luis Valbuena were the only regulars in the starting lineup Saturday.

Scioscia said Ohtani will make his first appearance as a designated hitter "early next week." The Angels do not plan to use Ohtani as a hitter the day before or after he pitches. So the soonest he'll be swinging the bat is Monday against the San Diego Padres at the Peoria Sports Complex.

Ohtani gave the Angels a tantalizing preview Thursday, when he launched several home runs over the scoreboard and the center field batting eye at Tempe Diablo. He hit .286 with a .500 slugging percentage over five seasons with Nippon.