Shohei Ohtani’s franchise-record streak of most consecutive starts with two or fewer runs given up came to an end on Thursday in his start against the Oakland Athletics, surrendering five runs in six innings.
It was smooth sailing early for the 2021 AL MVP, who tossed three perfect innings and fanned five to open the game.
Everything changed in the fourth inning, when Ohtani hit the A’s leadoff man, walked the next hitter, then gave up a three-run homer to Brent Rooker. Ohtani proceeded to hit the next batter, and then gave up a two-run homer to Shea Langliers. He surrendered five runs without recording an out, a rare sight for Ohtani considering his hot start to the year.
Ohtani bounced back from the nightmare fourth inning by keeping the A’s hitless in the fifth and sixth innings. He finished the day with 93 pitches, eight strikeouts, three hits allowed, two walks, and three hit batters. His season ERA is now at 1.82, although opposing hitters are still only hitting .102 against him.
In the postgame interview, Ohtani said that he lost his rhythm and mechanics when he was throwing slide-step with runners on base. “I haven’t thrown in a slide-step much, so I kept trying to find the right balance and timing in my mechanics. It was a technical issue rather than a mental issue.”
Ohtani believes that the outing was a good experience and said that the pre-game bullpen session and the first three innings were the best he felt all year. “That fourth inning is regrettable, but it felt really good coming back in the fifth and sixth. I’ll use it as a learning experience,” Ohtani said.
Ohtani continues to struggle with his command, despite his excellent start to the year. He has walked 13% of hitters, hit six of them, and has thrown five wild pitches.
“He’s human,” said Angels manager Phil Nevin. “You could sense it in the whole stadium, like, ‘What’s wrong with him?’ But nothing was wrong with him. You have to throw it over the plate, and Major League hitters take swings, sometimes they hit them,” Nevin said.
The bigger Ohtani story on Thursday was that he nearly hit for his second career cycle. After hitting a single, a double and a triple in his previous at-bats, Ohtani stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the 8th inning with one out and runners on first and second. He jumped on the first pitch, an 86 mph slider, and drove it to deep center field, but the ball was caught at the warning track.
Ohtani’s next scheduled start is against the St. Louis Cardinals on May 4th, 1:15PM EST/10:15AM PST.