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Shohei Ohtani began the 2023 season with a twist: calling his own pitches through a PitchCom device hidden underneath his jersey near his left shoulder.

Ohtani threw six shutout innings against the Athletics in Oakland on Thursday night, striking out 10 and allowing just two hits. He was occasionally wild, walking three and throwing just 55 strikes in 93 pitches. He left with a 1-0 lead but the Los Angeles Angels would go on to lose 2-1 after Oakland scored two in the bottom of the eighth.

Ohtani’s decision to call his own game appeared to hit a glitch immediately — before his second pitch of the game, rookie catcher Logan O’Hoppe had to call time to ask him to reenter the code on the device, and O’Hoppe quickly ran out to the mound after Ohtani threw his next pitch. For a time, the two returned to the prehistoric days, with O’Hoppe giving Ohtani signs.

But when the communication resumed to start the third inning, Ohtani settled into an efficient groove. When he is in charge, he is nothing if not certain. He frequently keyed in his pitch selection before the pitch clock even began, and on foul balls he reached under his arm and called the next pitch before receiving the baseball.

Ohtani’s move to call his own pitches deprives the world of one of the game’s unique pleasures — Ohtani incessantly shaking off his catcher — but it’s a decision based on the restrictions presented by the pitch clock.

“Shohei’s got so many pitches he can throw,” Angels manager Phil Nevin said before the game. “So for him to go through ’em and shake and shake and shake — time’s running out because that thing doesn’t say it quick enough sometimes.”

Other pitchers, including Angels reliever Ryan Tepera, are using the device to call their own pitches but placing it on their non-throwing wrist or forearm, where they can easily see the numbers as they type them in. Ohtani’s use of PitchCom is different; he had to memorize the keypad in order to use it without seeing the numbers on the pad.

Major League Baseball approved the use of PitchCom for pitchers last Friday; instead of the catcher keying in the pitch selection and the pitcher hearing it through a speaker in his cap, the sequence is reversed.

“They’re pushing buttons, they’re making eye contact,” Nevin said of Ohtani and O’Hoppe. “It’s a little different dynamic than we’ve seen in the past, obviously, but however they get there is fine with me.”

Ohtani’s fortunes on the mound last season changed drastically after he made the switch to PitchCom. In April and May, he had an ERA of 3.45. In his first four starts after adopting PitchCom, he threw 26⅔ innings with an ERA or 0.34, with 36 strikeouts and six walks. He finished the season with a 2.33 ERA, fourth in the American League.

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