Shohei Ohtani took the mound for the first time in the month of May against the Cardinals last Wednesday night.
The 2021 AL MVP had another rough start by his standards, allowing four runs in five innings. His season ERA has now gone up to 2.54, after back-to-back starts with four or more runs allowed.
Although he only lasted five innings, Ohtani tied his career high in single-game strikeouts with 13. He has struck out 38.6% of hitters in 39 innings this season. With the 13th strikeout, Ohtani reached 500 career strikeouts in MLB. He is now the first player since Babe Ruth to have 500 career strikeouts as a pitcher and 100 home runs as a hitter.
It was the second consecutive start where Ohtani allowed multiple home runs: a solo shot from Nolan Gorman in the first inning, and a two-run homer from Dylan Carlson in the fourth.
Both home runs came off of Ohtani’s sweeper, which was not at its best. The average horizontal break on the sweeper was three inches below the season average. The drier conditions of Busch Stadium may have played a role in the reduced movement.
Ohtani was disappointed with the short start. “I wanted to get through six or seven innings, minimum, more than the strikeouts, I’m more disappointed that I didn’t get that far in the game,” Ohtani said.
Former Seattle Mariners reliever and current analyst Kazuhiro Sasaki said that it might be time for Ohtani to make adjustments to his pitch mix. “The average velocity of Ohtani’s fastball was the highest so far this year at 98 mph,” Sasaki said for Nikkan Sports. “Ohtani’s kept his pitch mix consistent this season. With more divisional games on the way, if he changes his pitch tendencies for one or two games he’ll keep teams guessing,” Sasaki said.
91% of Ohtani’s pitches on Wednesday were either sweepers or fastballs, with the occasional splitter and sinker. “It felt like they were sitting on certain pitches on certain counts,” Ohtani said. Ohtani had been using more cutters and curveballs in recent starts, but not in this game. Going back to mixing the occasional cutter and curveball, and increasing his splitter and sinker usage may be an adjustment that Ohtani can make to keep hitters on their toes.
The Angels won the game 6-4 on account of Mike Trout and Jake Lamb homers in the 9th inning.
The matchup between Ohtani and WBC teammate Lars Nootbaar was highly anticipated by Japanese media. Like the matchup against Masataka Yoshida last month, Ohtani got the upper hand. Ohtani struck out Nootbaar in all three at-bats, on a sweeper, splitter, and fastball. “It looked like he went into another gear in that matchup,” Sasaki said.
Ohtani’s next scheduled start is an AL West divisional showdown at home against the Houston Astros on May 9, 9:38PM EST/6:38PM PT.
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