What Los Angeles Angeles two-way star Shohei Ohtani has done through the first half of the 2021 season is unprecedented.
As a hitter, Ohtani has become one of the most feared batters across baseball. He leads the Majors in home runs and slugging percentage, while only two other players have driven in more runs than him. On the mound, the 27-year-old has made 13 starts for the Angels and before a recent letdown in New York, had an Earned Run Average (ERA) well below three.
Simply put, there's a reason Ohtani is the American League's starting pitcher in Tuesday's All-Star game while also hitting in the leadoff spot.
Despite Ohtani's 2021 success, the Angels are once again on the outside looking in at the current playoff picture. With an October run unlikely, Nationals' first baseman Ryan Zimmerman wonders whether it's worth having Ohtani shift to a closer role, rather than having him continue to start games on the mound this season and increase his injury risk.
"Being a starting pitcher obviously puts a lot of strain on your arm and your body," Zimmerman said on the Sports Junkies. "For me, I think you DH him and let him be a closer. At least you get some value out of the pitching side without taxing him."
While it might seem odd to be precautious with still a few months of the season remaining, it's understandable considering Ohtani's injury history.
Ohtani had Tommy John surgery on his throwing arm in 2018, an injury that prevented him from pitching all of 2019. Then he made just two starts in 2020 before another injury ended his season from the mound (Ohtani still continued to hit). In four years with the Angels, Ohtani has made just 25 starts as a pitcher, with 13 of them coming in 2021.
However, Ohtani has been dominant from both the mound and at the plate this season, putting together a campaign that has never been done in the modern era of Major League Baseball. This type of season is what the Angels envisioned when they signed him back in 2017.
"We've never seen anybody be able to pitch and hit at this level in the modern era," Zimmerman said. "It's pretty amazing if you think about it, what he's doing and how successful he is doing it."
While Zimmerman suggested the closer role as a way to maximize Ohtani, the first baseman made it clear he hopes the Angels star continues to both hit and pitch for a long time. Zimmerman, like the rest of us, doesn't want to see the two-way experiment end anytime soon.
"What an unbelievable talent for him to come to the Big Leagues and do this," Zimmerman said. "Nobody has done this in the modern era. It's fun to watch and good for the game. Hopefully he does both and stays healthy and does it for a long time. I think that would be great for the game of baseball."