BALTIMORE -- It was a sea of red and orange at Camden Yards on Wednesday night. Sure, there were plenty of fans there to see if the Orioles could end their 19-game losing streak, but it was clear what -- or who -- was the main attraction: Shohei Ohtani.
Fans are accustomed to watching the Angels’ starting pitcher and leadoff hitter do things he hasn’t done before. However, Wednesday’s performance was not the type of historic moment they expected. For the first time in his Major League career, Ohtani allowed multiple home runs in the 10-6 loss.
“I just thought that was a hard five innings right there,” said manager Joe Maddon of Ohtani’s outing. “He's playing tomorrow again and I didn't see any reason to push him right there, at this time of the year under the circumstances.”
Though Ohtani tried to advocate to pitch deeper, his night was over after five innings. He allowed two solo shots in the first inning and a two-run homer in the fourth. He fanned seven batters without issuing a walk in his 19th start of the year. At the plate, he went 0-for-4, including three strikeouts.
Maddon lets the All-Star do his own thing, and Ohtani’s game plan is based on feel, rather than planning a pitch-by-pitch breakdown.
“This guy is based on feel, I really liked that a lot,” said Maddon. “I mean, not many pitchers can do that. Create themselves, create the moment. I know he's been observing [the Orioles' lineup] and combine that with how he's feeling, that's what he's going to do in that moment.”
Recently, the righty has been feeling more in control with his slider and cutter, relying less and less on his splitter and fastball.
In his first 12 starts, Ohtani used his splitter almost 20 percent of the time, while tossing his fastball for more than half of his pitches. However, on Wednesday, his pitch variety looked a lot more like his previous six starts -- his 84 pitches were a mix of his slider (32 percent), cutter (29 percent), fastball (27 percent), splitter (7 percent) and curveball (5 percent).
“My splitter's been feeling better recently too,” said Ohtani through an interpreter. “I'm trying not to focus on just getting the strikeouts. I want to keep my pitch count down, and the slider and cutter has been helping me do that.”
Entering his start on Wednesday, Ohtani's ERA since the start of July sat at just 1.58, which stood as the lowest in MLB. During that span, he tossed three starts at Angel Stadium and now, four on the road.
The Angels’ skipper said it best, Ohtani pitches based on feel. So, it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that the right-handed ace pitches better at home. The difference between his road and home ERA shifted yet again after Wednesday’s outing -- 4.25 on the road and 1.92 at home.
“He didn’t have his great stuff,” Maddon added. “He gave up a couple of homers. Obviously, he doesn’t give up a lot of those, although this ballpark plays like that. Still, overall, maybe not the normal good stuff that we've seen.”
Ohtani had never pitched at Camden Yards before, but he doesn't like to make excuses. It was simple to him, he made bad pitches and needs to correct it for next time.
This type of competitiveness and drive isn’t new to his skipper, or fans. No matter how great Ohtani is or what record he holds, he continues working to improve. A perfect example of the type of player he is came when he was asked if he would be ready to pitch on shorter rest due to injuries in the rotation.
“It's completely up to the team,” Ohtani said. “If they tell me to go on shorter days' rest, I’ll be up for it. At the same time, it's not just the rotation, a bunch of our position players and main guys are out right now. So, I feel like I need to contribute on the hitting side also.”