Shohei Ohtani’s Dominant Start Against ‘Stros

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Nearly Perfect

Shohei Ohtani has been off to a shaky start in the month of April for the Los Angeles Angels. He is 0–2 on the mound and 11-for-51 at the plate. But on Wednesday, Ohtani showcased a side of him that we haven’t seen before. Ohtani threw six mind-blowing innings in his start that evening against the Houston Astros, retiring his first 16 batters (12 via the strikeout), before his bid for a perfect game came to an end. Shohei Ohtani’s near perfect start was one of his most stellar starts in his MLB career, and surely his most dominant start against the ‘Stros.

The rhetoric in the baseball industry when it comes to the ‘Stros sounds a little like this: “They have one, if not, the toughest lineup in baseball and are the favorite to win the AL West for the fifth time in six years. That sounds pretty spot on, but none of that mattered to Shohei Ohtani on Wednesday night when he threw a bunch of frisbee sliders to the Astros hitters all night long until they finally cracked the code on a single to centerfield by Jason Castro. 

Ohtani, the pitcher, is mostly known for his devastating splitter. According to StatCast, last year Ohtani threw 371 splitters, 18% of the time. Batters went 11 for 127 against the pitch, amounting to a .087 batting average. He averaged a 48% whiff rate on that pitch and a 35% put away rate. He accumulated 77 strikeouts using it. His split had the lowest BA in all of MLB. 

Ohtani’s New Favorite Pitch?

This year it’s kind of a different story. While he’s struck out five using the split, he’s already allowed one home run. That’s up one from last year’s totals. His splitter looked much better on Wednesday night than it did the previous two starts. While his splitter hasn’t been working the way he has wanted it to to start the season, he’s been working on his slider which has looked pretty disgusting. You can observe on start days that he’s trusting it more, seemingly almost throwing it more than his fastball that regularly touches 98 or 99 mph. As a matter of fact, Ohtani has thrown his fastball 64 times and thrown his slider 43 times over his last three starts. 

Ohtani made the Astros hitters look foolish out there, handing out strikeouts to every member of the lineup, and even neutralizing hit machine Michael Brantley on a couple of occasions to where Brantley slammed and broke his bat in frustration. Nobody does that to the Astros’ lineup. Nobody throws five and ⅓ perfect innings against that Astros lineup. Even Ohtani himself has had to fight to just get through a few innings against the ‘Stros in the past. But we saw an Ohtani out there that’s not scared of any lineup, and one that’s obviously improved since last season. 

Quick Adjustments

During the series against the Texas Rangers, Ohtani wasn’t able to go more than five innings. The Rangers touched him up for a grand slam on his best pitch. Ohtani learned from the start, and made an adjustment in Houston. He changed his delivery slightly to where his glove position is parallel with his waist, unlike before when it was parallel with his face. This little change allows him to hide the ball and his arm a bit more, causing more deception. It definitely seemed to pay off.

It’s amazing what a near perfect start can do for your ERA and WHIP. A couple of the most well-known stats when evaluating a pitcher. Shohei Ohtani’s dominant start against the ‘Stros lowered his ERA from 7.56 to 4.40 and lowered his WHIP to 1.05.

Ohtani in the Box

Shohei Ohtani has struggled early in the 2022 season, to where he was 3-for-21 at one point, but he finally started to find his groove when the Halos visited the Rangers earlier in the week. In that series, Shohei hit two homers and had a couple of other base hits as well.

Watching Shohei when he’s pulling double duty is must-see TV, but here’s a mind-boggling stat to think about: Shohei Ohtani was on the bases more than the ENTIRE Astros lineup was when he was on the mound. He went 2-for-4 with a walk, double, bunt hit, and two RBI. It’s just an amazing thing to see when the guy on the mound has a dirty jersey from sliding on the base paths. Shohei Ohtani’s dominant start on the mound wasn’t the only issue for the ‘Stros that night, but Ohtani was also a force to be reckoned with at the plate as well. How do you build a better player than that? The answer will surprise you, but you can. Shohei Ohtani aims to beat his best the next day, the following day, and the day after that.

Having Mike Trout bat behind Ohtani in the lineup has paid its dividends. Shohei is seeing more strikes on a consistent basis. He noticed it himself, and said that he just has to be more aggressive. Remember last season when Shohei wasn’t being pitched to at all? As long as Trout is in the lineup, those days are over. We should expect to see much more damage inflicted from the Angels lead-off man.

Let the ¨Shohei Kind of Things¨ Begin

Fastballs, sliders, splits. You name it, and Ohtani was missing bats with whatever pitch Angels’ catcher Max Stassi called. That’s how good he was. Credit to Stassi as well, Ohtani’s numbers have been significantly better when Stassi receives for him. Stassi has been on the other side of some pretty epic Shohei starts. 

The Angels are now 8–6 and are tied for 1st in the AL West. Just as manager Joe Maddon said: “I expect Shohei to start doing Shohei kind of things.” And oh man, if this wasn’t the first of many “Shohei kind of things.” 

 

Main Photo:
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Players/Managers Mentioned:

Shohei Ohtani, Jason Castro, Michael Brantley, Mike Trout, Max Stassi, Joe Maddon