Red Sox prepare for Shohei Ohtani to take his Babe Ruth act to mound

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Tomase: Sox will see Ohtani channel his inner Babe Ruth tonight originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Most superstars today can be described with a recent comparison. Mets ace Jacob deGrom channels Pedro Martinez. Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. recalls a young Alex Rodriguez. Our own Xander Bogaerts borrows a little from Nomar and a little from Jeter.

Then there's Shohei Ohtani.

There hasn't been a player like him in a century. There's really only been one player like him ever. Perhaps you've heard of him.

"You mean Babe Ruth?" joked Red Sox DH J.D. Martinez recently. "I mean, it's crazy to have a player with that much talent be able to do both things."

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Ruth is enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame for his exploits as a hitter, but he might've reached Cooperstown as a pitcher if he had stayed on the mound. What even the Bambino never did, however, was dominate both sides of the game in the same season.

In his last great season as a pitcher, when he went 24-13 with a 2.01 ERA in 1917, Ruth hit two home runs. In his first great season as a hitter two years later, when he delivered a league-leading 29 homers, he made just 15 starts.

Ohtani? He just pulled off a first, being selected to the All-Star Game as both a position player and pitcher. If the season ended today, he'd be the runaway MVP favorite based on his league-leading 31 homers and 1.058 OPS. Though only 3-1 on the mound, he might sneak a Cy Young vote or two thanks to a 3.60 ERA and 12.5 strikeouts per nine.

He is the most complete player in the game, he is the most compelling player in the game, and for the next couple of nights, he will be the Red Sox' problem.

"We should make a new award for him," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. "For the hitters, he's just a different breed. He's something different. This is something MLB hasn't seen since Babe Ruth. I don't know. He should be in the (MVP) conversation. The things that he does, the way that he dominates the game with everything he does, right now he's probably the best player in the game because he's able to do both at a high level.

"He's not the best hitter. He's not the best pitcher. But you combine everything and he's the best player."

Two All-Stars in one

Ohtani's 2021 home run total (leads MLB)

31

Ohtani's 2021 ERA

3.60

Variation

Double

The Red Sox survived their encounters with Ohtani the batter on Sunday, and on Monday night, they'll get their first look at him on the mound.

Sunday's 5-4 victory ended with the winning run on base and Ohtani at the plate, but he grounded sharply into the shift vs. Adam Ottavino to end it.

"I was trying to avoid ever getting to that point," Ottavino said. "I had in the back of my mind, don't let Ohtani come up. Of course it happens. In the moment, I'm ready for battle. It's a fun situation."

"Fun" is not a word most opponents would use to describe their encounters with Ohtani. His 31 homers are four more than second-place Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and 10 more than third-place Rafael Devers, among others.

That he has hit them while making 12 starts and throwing 60 innings is almost too much for Cora to process.

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"The most impressive thing is, it's actually very hard to prepare to do both at this level," Cora said. "The workouts, I don't know how that works, bullpens, the days in between starts and then you've got to prepare to hit. This is the best level in baseball. For him to be able to be successful doing both is amazing. I'm actually in awe of everything that he's doing."

While Ohtani might not be as show-stopping on the mound as he is at the plate, he's still worth the price of admission. His fastball averages over 95 mph and his 87 mph splitter is Koji Uehara levels of unhittable, with opponents batting just .083 against it this season.

If there's an area where perhaps Ohtani suffers by dividing his attention between pitching and hitting, it's command. He has walked 35, a rate of more than five per nine innings. The walks have boosted his pitch counts and as a result, he has only reached the sixth inning in six of his 12 starts. He's also coming off his worst start of the season, a seven-run effort vs. the Yankees that saw him knocked out in the first after walking four.

Regardless of what he did last week in New York, the Red Sox will be expecting his best. When you're facing Babe Ruth, it's unwise to plan for anything less.