Shohei Otani knows how to put on a show.
With a bevy of scouts from the United States at the Sapporo Dome, Otani made only his third start of the season as a pitcher for the Nippon Ham Fighters on Tuesday, and the two-way phenom did not disappoint. Otani dazzled on the mound against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, and his fastball topped out at 163 kph - or 101.3 mph - in the second inning.
That speed was just a hair shy of tying his own record for the fastest pitch ever thrown in Japanese baseball. Last September, Otani threw a 101.9-mph fastball.
Otani didn't allow a run in 5 2/3 innings of one-hit work Tuesday, and struck out four while walking three. His Fighters defeated Rakuten by a score of 7-0.
"I think I was able to show some good pitching and we won, so I'm happy about that," Otani told Kyodo News. "Compared to how I throw when I'm in top form, I'm not there yet, but I was able to pitch carefully so as to keep them off the board. I'm looking forward to next time."
All eyes were on Otani on this night. Kyodo News reported that half of MLB's 30 teams were in attendance at the Sapporo Dome, and Jason Coskrey of the Japan Times noted at least 27 people were seated in the stadium's designated scout section.
Otani has drawn comparisons to Babe Ruth with his potential as a two-way player in the majors, but prior to Tuesday, he'd made just two starts this season due to a thigh injury that sidelined him for much of the first half. When healthy, the 23-year-old has been employed mostly as a designated hitter this year - and he's acquitted himself quite well, slashing .346/.574/.416 with seven homers, 22 extra-base hits, and 28 RBIs across 185 plate appearances.