(Reuters) - Japanese two-way star Shohei Ohtani continued to display Babe Ruth-like brilliance in the early stages of his Major League career as he flirted with a perfect game while pitching for six-plus innings in a Los Angeles Angels victory on Sunday.
The 23-year-old rookie allowed just one hit and struck out 12 over seven scoreless innings as he improved to 2-0 as a pitcher in his team’s 6-1 win over the Oakland Athletics.
The performance only increased the buzz that Ohtani, who hit home runs in three consecutive games last week, could become the highest-profile player since Hall of Famer Ruth to succeed on both the mound and at the plate.
Ruth managed to dominate both disciplines for the Boston Red Sox in 1918 and 1919 before his fateful move on to the New York Yankees, where he became the Sultan of Swat and seldom pitched.
“I think he’s mature beyond his years,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia told reporters when asked about the right-handed pitcher before Sunday’s game.
“He’s been challenged at a young age, so he’s seasoned to what a lot of players have to get acclimated to. He’s been playing at a very high level of baseball from a very young age.
“Shohei, he’s very confident, he works very, very hard at what he needs to do, and there’s a lot on his plate. But he has the talent to do it.”
Ohtani showed plenty of that talent when he retired the first 19 batters he faced, throwing a perfect game until Marcus Semien lined a fastball into left field for a single with one out in the seventh.
“Probably my best outing ever was when I was in elementary school,” Ohtani, who shone for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan before joining the Angels in December, said through an interpreter.
He pumped his fist as he walked off the field after striking out the last batter he faced with two runners on in the seventh inning, receiving a standing ovation from the 44,742 in attendance as he departed.
“I wanted to keep a clean zero on the board,” Ohtani said of his last out. “One hit would have been two runs — that’s a huge difference. I wanted that strikeout and I got it.”
Nicknamed the Babe Ruth of Japan because of his dual threat, Ohtani became the first Major League player with two wins and three home runs in his team's first 10 games since Jim Shaw for the Washington Senators in 1919, according to mlb.com www.mlb.com.
He also joined Ruth (1916) and Ken Brett (1973) as the only players in Major League history with a double-digit strikeout game and a home run in three consecutive contests.
Ohtani homered in his first ever at-bat at Angels stadium last week and has continued to thrill fans with a .389 batting average at the plate, where he has three homers and seven RBIs.
On the mound, which is where the Angels plan to use him primarily, Ohtani has 18 strikeouts in two games, helping to push Los Angeles to an impressive 7-3 start.
Reporting by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles and Gene Cherry in North Carolina; Editing by John O'Brien