ANAHEIM — Two-way star Shohei Ohtani served as the Angels’ leadoff hitter for the first 16 games of the season but moved down to the No. 2 spot in the order against the Guardians in the series opener on Monday at Angel Stadium.
Ohtani, the reigning American League MVP, scuffled a bit during his time atop the lineup, batting .224/.288/.403 with three homers, three doubles, nine RBIs and three stolen bases. But Angels manager Joe Maddon said he moved Ohtani down because of the emergence of right fielder Taylor Ward, who has batted .346/.528/.500 with 10 walks in eight games.
Maddon said he still likes Ohtani leading off but wants to see what the lineup will look like going forward with Ohtani sliding down to the No. 2 spot with fellow stars Mike Trout, Jared Walsh and Anthony Rendon following him in the order.
“I was doing the lineup last night and this morning and was looking at a whole bunch of things,” Maddon said. “I just thought it was wasting [Ward’s] services by not putting him up a little bit higher. Let him set up and see what it looks like.”
Ohtani has experience as both a leadoff hitter and a No. 2 hitter and fared well in both spots last year. Ohtani hit .252/.363/.613 with 39 homers and 87 RBIs in 117 games as the club’s No. 2 batter last season, while batting .272/.388/.543 with six homers and 10 RBIs in 23 games leading off. For his career, he has an .812 OPS in 42 games as the leadoff hitter, a .926 OPS in 129 games as the No. 2 hitter and an .843 OPS in 109 games as the No. 3 batter.
Maddon explained his rationale for batting Ohtani leadoff to open the season, as he liked that Ohtani was able to set the tone as the first hitter and receive more at-bats leading off. Ohtani entered the game leading the club with 73 plate appearances, which is 16 more than his next closest teammate in Rendon.
“He’s going to hit his home runs,” Maddon said. “He’s going to drive in his runs. He’s going to score runs. Among all of our guys, you like to see Michael up there a lot, you like to see Anthony up there a lot, but one guy you want to see up there all the time is Shohei. … But just looking at Taylor and the job he’s been doing, I just felt like he’s been doing a great job getting on base for the seven, eight, nine hitters, so I put him up top.”