What's next for Shohei Ohtani after homering off Corey Kluber?

Did you have some doubts? Of course you did. You should have doubts. Baseball is hard. But after winning his debut and now homering in back-to-back games, of course we should overreact. Nobody expected it would turn out this well this fast.

Shohei Ohtani homered for the second straight game, this time off Corey Kluber, and later singled in going 2-for-5 in the Angels' 13-inning, 3-2 victory over the Indians on Wednesday afternoon.

He also joined the exclusive 100-100 club: He joined Noah Syndergaard and Gerrit Cole as the only players since 2015 with multiple 100 mph pitches and multiple home runs with 100 mph exit velocity.

That's cool. That's fun. We're at peak Ohtani hype, but c'mon, I've never seen somebody do this in MLB, and neither have you. Let's take a step back and assess what’s going on with this two-way novelty.

Is homering off Kluber even bigger than No. 1? After Ohtani's home run off Josh Tomlin on Tuesday, one response on my Twitter feed was, "My grandma could hit a home run off Tomlin." So at least one person wasn't impressed.

True, Tomlin gives up a lot of home runs. I suppose somebody out there will say, "Sure, he homered off the reigning Cy Young winner, but it was a 91 mph fastball in the zone. Big deal." There are always people who won't enjoy the party. Mike Scioscia isn't one of those people.

"At the plate, he's starting to get comfortable and you can see the big power that he has," the Angels' manager said postgame. "Corey Kluber is a guy that doesn't give up a lot of home runs, and he got one over the plate and Shohei got a big hit.

"He's swung the bat well since he played professionally in Japan. You see the bat speed, you see the power. He's making some adjustments, he's understanding the league. As he goes forward, there's a lot more he has to absorb as far as being a big league hitter."

Anyway, no, it’s not bigger than the first one, because that initial home run was such a moment of pure joy that it's almost impossible to top. As one colleague e-mailed me, "I woke up my dog because I screamed so loudly! And then it got reeeeal dusty when he was hugging everyone in the dugout."

He's scheduled to start on the mound on Sunday. Can the Angels put him in as the DH as well? The DH is optional, so Scioscia could simply put Ohtani in the lineup and not use a DH. If you do that, however, that means subsequent pitchers enter in Ohtani's spot in the batting order (although you could double-switch, no different than a National League game). You can't enter a DH in the middle of the game. If you don't use it, you lose it.

Would Scioscia actually do it? It seems unlikely, in part because you're putting the team at a disadvantage if Ohtani gets knocked out early. For what it's worth, since the DH rule was instituted in 1973, only five pitchers have started in the lineup:

  • 2016: Madison Bumgarner, Giants (he went 1-for-4 and allowed four runs in 6 ⅓ innings)

  • 2009: Andy Sonnanstine, Rays (due to a lineup error by Joe Maddon)

  • 1976: Ken Brett, White Sox (twice)

  • 1975: Ken Holtzman, A's (on the next-to-day last day of the season, so more of a lark than anything)

  • 1974: Fergie Jenkins, Rangers (on the last day of the season)

So it's happened six times, with one by mistake and two in meaningless end-of-season games.

Could he end up DH'ing in every game he doesn't pitch? For now, the Angels are sticking to a plan that includes, at the minimum, giving Ohtani time off before he pitches and the day after. So far, his schedule has gone like this:

Day 1: Hit

Day 2: DNP

Day 3: DNP

Day 4: Pitch

Day 5: DNP

Day 6: DH

Day 7 (April 4): DH

Day 8: Off day

Day 9: TBD

Day 10: TBD

Day 11: Pitch

His schedule in Japan was a little more rigorous. In 2016, when he slashed .322/.416/.588 with 22 home runs in 323 at-bats and went 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA in 20 starts, he appeared in 104 of Nippon Ham's 140 games. He sometimes hit when he pitched, with the Fighters foregoing the DH.

It's hard to say Ohtani struggled with that usage. He led the Pacific League in OPS at 1.004. Only one other hitter was above .900. (Three hitters in the Central League had a 1.000 OPS.) He led both leagues in lowest ERA for a starting pitcher and strikeouts per nine.

Bottom line: You have to think the Angels are going to be as conservative as possible, at least at the beginning of the season. You have to plan for the long haul. On the other hand, the more at-bats Ohtani receives, the better chance he has at success at the plate. Still, if he gets 10 plate appearances a week, that's about 260 over the season. Is that enough for his development and learning curve?

Is he really this good of a hitter? That's still the million-dollar question. He had another impressive at-bat leading off the 10th inning against Indians closer Cody Allen. He fouled off a couple of inside fastballs while laying off a couple of good curveballs below the zone before grounding a 3-2 fastball up the middle for a single.

The early game plan has been to try and bust him inside with fastballs, pitches he struggled with in spring training -- although Kluber was definitely going outside on the home run. He used a big leg kick in Japan but has gone with a shorter, quick stride so far in the majors, which is probably easier for him to get his timing down. He's shown pretty good strike-zone recognition so far as well.

Based on his batting stats in Japan, Ohtani has the ability to perform here. His hitting projections at FanGraphs:

ZiPS: .255/.316/.445, 8.0 percent BB rate, 30.9 percent SO rate

Steamer: .261/.339/.463, 10.0 percent BB, 29.3 percent SO

Both forecasted strikeouts as a significant issue, as a 30 percent strikeout rate is pretty high (only 22 batters with at least 250 PAs reached that level in the majors in 2017). He has three strikeouts in his first 14 PAs.

I guess the bottom line is this: If he keeps hitting, he'll force Scioscia's hand. It’s not like Jefry Marte is a big roadblock to playing time (if Ohtani is the DH, that means more Albert Pujols at first base).

Does spring training matter? Since he was 4-for-32 when the games didn't mean anything, it doesn't look like it, does it?