The last time someone did what Shohei Ohtani just did – be the starting pitcher in a game while leading the major leagues in the homers – was June 13, 1921. Babe Ruth had already racked up 19 homers when he took the mound against the Detroit Tigers. That day. Ruth hit third and had two more home runs, but he also gave up four runs in the fifth inning and came out afterwards. It was Ruth’s last departure until 1930. By then, her two-way prowess was a distant memory.
A century later, Ohtani produced a similar line – five innings pitched, four runs allowed – but offered a contrasting trajectory.
His Monday start, on the road against the Texas Rangers, began with a reminder of how hard it is to achieve what he does and ended with the claim that Ohtani might just do it anyway. In the first inning, he allowed five baserunners, served a three-run homerun and threw just 11 of his 29 shots for hitting. From the start of the second inning to the end of the fifth, he struck out 12 of 13 batters he faced – eight on strikeouts, five in a row.
Ohtani also produced a 52-foot decay and 113.8 mph line workout, both gone for hits. He scored three points, led two more and could have had at least one stolen base if Angels manager Joe Maddon hadn’t given him the “hold” sign because it was too much.
“If you weren’t entertained watching it tonight,” Maddon said after the 9-4 Angels win, “you can’t be entertained by watching the baseball game.”
Ohtani clearly has the power, bat control and speed to be an elite offensive player. He also has the makings and feel to succeed as a pitcher, as well as the discipline and competitiveness to juggle two roles. The only notable obstacle – aside from the blisters, another of which appeared on his middle finger in the final innings on Monday – is command.
Ohtani’s command was visibly canceled six days ago when he returned from a 16-day hiatus to pitch against the Rangers, as he threw six goals and hit a batter, but somehow did. surrendered no run in four innings. He was off again Monday in the opening game of the Globe Life Field rematch in Arlington, Texas, when he fell behind each of the top five hitters he faced.
On a scale of 0 to 100, Ohtani gave his command a “zero” when he first met against the Rangers.
After his second, he changed it to “a five”.
He thinks it will be much better.
“I felt like my command from the second run was pretty good,” Ohtani said through his interpreter, “so I just need to keep building on that.”
Maddon began his second year as manager of the Angels with the intention of lifting the fabricated restrictions that confined Ohtani and granting him the freedom to play without limits. As a result, he began to see more of Ohtani’s quirky humor and steel competitiveness spread. Hitting the day he throws, Maddon believes, benefits Ohtani as it doesn’t give him the bandwidth to dwell on either aspect.
It went that way on Monday.
After four points from Ohtani down the first on the mound, he entered the batter’s box on the top of the second, lined up a two-run double to right field, then came in to score on Mike Trout’s single, equaling the match. When Ohtani returned to the mound again, he approached it as a “new beginning”.
“I treated it like it’s a whole new ball game,” Ohtani said. “Everything went well from there.”
Ohtani leaned heavily on his fastball to get past the batters, then used his splitter to put them away, using that last pitch to register seven of his nine strikeouts. Sometimes it also flashed a firmer slider with less depth that looked like a cutter. Maddon noticed cleaner delivery and more accurate ordering because of that, the kind of drastic adjustment he’s seen Ohtani make before. This earned him his first victory since May 20, 2018.
“He never panicked,” Maddon noted. “When things were bad his demeanor didn’t change, his resolve didn’t change from his face. He knew he had to make an adjustment, so it wasn’t an emotional riff that caused him to get better at the over time. during this game. It doesn’t start to speed up, and that’s why it’s able to make these adjustments. “
Ohtani, who wants to return to the Angels roster on Tuesday, beats .300 / .341 / .675 with 14 more hits – including seven homers – in 85 appearances at home plate. On the mound, he sports a 3.29 ERA with 23 strikeouts and 13 steps in 13 innings. As a hitter, he ranks in the top 2% of the barrel. As a pitcher, he has a splitter that resulted in a hit and 18 strikeouts.
The inconsistent drive, Maddon said, could simply be the result of someone who has only compiled 79 innings from 2017-2020 and still feels comfortable on a major league mound. Even when that falters, Maddon added, Ohtani remains extremely elusive – a sign that eventually, as happened on Monday, dominance could follow.
“When he’s going through those times,” Maddon said, “you just need to buckle up your seatbelt and watch.”