In one of the most intriguing matchups in all of baseball this spring, Shintaro Fujinami and Shohei Ohtani lived up to the hype.
With Ohtani, we already knew what to expect, given he’s arguably the best baseball player alive. Fujinami is the one everybody, even A’s fans, were unsure about coming into this year. Formerly a top Japanese prospect who had a rough stretch of years before regaining his mojo in 2022, it’s been a big question mark of how he’ll adjust to Major League offenses.
Well in his American debut, he did his best to a put big fat X through that question mark, gutting his way to a performance that matched that of his opposing countrymate. Wielding the nasty arsenal coaches have been raving about, Fuji pitched as good a game as you could expect given the pressure and circumstances.
After dominating the 1st inning by striking out the first 2 of his 3 batters, his command issues, which are well documented, started to flare up in a big way in the 2nd. Walk after walk after walk, Fuji blinked and he all of a sudden had the bases loaded with no outs. For a second, he had A’s fans second guessing why their team would give a whopping $3.25 million to a guy who can’t throw strikes!
Little did they know, Fuji’s not one to get rattled. Not only did he get out of that jam, he did it as efficiently as possible. First, he struck out Aaron Whitefield looking with just 3 pitches. And then Livian Soto, hoping to avoid the same fate, hit a ground ball into a double play. Crisis averted, scoreless debut secured.
The pitching lines for Fuji and Ohtani ended up looking eerily similar.
Fujinami: 2 IP, 1 H, 3 BB, 3 K
Ohtani: 2.1 IP, 0 H, 2 BB, 2K
Shintaro Fujinami, Filthy Splitters...and Sword. ⚔️ pic.twitter.com/GjQR7GPkhd— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) February 28, 2023
Hopefully, it won’t be long before we see a full-game version of this dynamic matchup; perhaps Opening Day?
Unfortunately for Oakland, the rest of the pitching staff didn’t build off Fuji’s strong outing. Also making their 2023 pitching debuts were Trevor May, Ken Waldichuk, and Hogan Harris, all of whom gave up at least 2 runs a piece. Add returning journeyman Austin Pruitt to that list. But for every pitching performance we have to remind ourselves to not get irrationally excited about (excluding Fuji’s, of course), we have to do the same for the bad ones and chalk it up to rust.
On the offensive end, the A’s held their own with a smooth 3-run homer from Jace Peterson, who’s having a nice spring thus far, and a Shea Langeliers double that brought home Connor Capel.
Jace likes the first pitch pic.twitter.com/CR6wsuNl2u— Oakland A's (@Athletics) February 28, 2023
Also nice to see was Esteury Ruiz continuing to wreck havoc with his motor legs. Not only did he steal his 2nd base in as many games (162 steal season upcoming?), he also quieted questions about his outfield defense with a diving catch in left-center field.
Something tells me that Estuery Ruiz is going to fit right in at center. #RootedInOakland pic.twitter.com/k6kMNgYVyc— Uprooted (@uprootedoakland) February 28, 2023
Despite the 11-5 loss dropping the A’s to a 2-2 spring training record, the team’s continuing to showcase a lot more flare and dynamism than they had last year. Regardless of the results, each spring training game is assuring fans more and more that Oakland’s gonna be fielding an entertaining squad in 2023 and onward.