Shohei Ohtani struggled mightily in his return from Tommy John surgery, as the right-hander didn’t record an out in the first inning and surrendered five runs in a 6-4 loss to the A’s on Sunday at the Oakland Coliseum.
Ohtani, pitching in a Major League game for the first time since Sept. 2, 2018, had trouble with his velocity and his control. His fastball averaged 92.7 mph -- and maxed out at 94.7 mph -- while only 15 of his 30 pitches were strikes. Ohtani's fastball averaged 96.7 mph during his rookie season in 2018, when he posted a 3.31 ERA in 10 starts with 63 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings. Ohtani, though, said he was healthy after the outing and attributed it to the long layoff since his last time on a Major League mound.
“It wasn't so much mechanics but I have to get that feel for the game back,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “Today, I felt like I was throwing the ball instead of pitching. So there's a little rust and I need to come up with a gameplan to get efficient outs."
Ohtani gave up a leadoff single to Marcus Semien and then couldn’t find the strike zone, walking three straight batters to bring home a run. He then gave up a two-run single to Mark Canha on a 3-2 fastball before surrendering an RBI single to Robbie Grossman on an 0-1 curveball that knocked him from the game. Angels manager Joe Maddon said it was an easy decision to take out Ohtani at the time and that he’s generally not worried about Ohtani going forward. Ohtani was throwing 95 mph and touched 97 mph in Summer Camp.
"If you want to call 'How do we fix it?' a concern, yeah,” Maddon said. “Obviously we've got to get him beyond this point. Coming off of the severe injury, getting a chance to compete for the first time in a while, there's mental adhesions to break through to get to the point where you had been. I've seen this with other guys before.”
Right-hander Matt Andriese, who is the club’s fifth starter and was expected to start Tuesday against the Mariners, replaced Ohtani and got out of the jam with a run-scoring double play and a strikeout. Andriese kept the Angels in the game by throwing 5 2/3 scoreless innings. And Mike Trout crushed a three-run homer in the third and had four RBIs but it wasn’t quite enough.
The five runs charged to Ohtani marked a career high, as his previous worst was giving up four runs over 5 1/3 innings against the Astros on April 24, 2018. Ohtani also didn't register any swinging strikes in his 30 pitches and threw just two splitters, which was his best pitch in '18. Ohtani explained he didn't get into counts that allowed him to go to his splitter, as he was behind in the count to four of the six batters he faced.
“Reflecting back, I felt like I couldn't let it eat and throw with all my strength,” Ohtani said. “That's one of the things I regret."
The A’s were surprised by Ohtani’s diminished velocity but were obviously pleased they were able to take advantage of Ohtani in his first time pitching in a game in 683 days.
"Last time we saw him he threw a little harder with a few more splits,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “Maybe he’s not all the way there yet. I think you go up there early in the game maybe even expecting a little more as far as the velo goes. We really weren’t sure what to expect. We know he is an absolute terrific talent. Probably didn’t have his best stuff. Certainly didn’t have his best command today.”
Because of his limited pitch count, Ohtani could be in the lineup as designated hitter in the series finale on Monday, even though his plan this year calls for him not to hit on the days before and after he starts.
“Obviously there's a lot of things I need to look back on and work on on the pitching side,” Ohtani said. “But we still have another game tomorrow and I have some chance of playing so I have to change my focus on tomorrow's game.”