'Outstanding' Ohtani shines in mound return

Two-way star strikes out 10 in Halos' 10-inning loss to A's

September 20th, 2021

ANAHEIM -- Despite having his scheduled start against the A's pushed back two days because of arm soreness, two-way sensation was sharp on Sunday, striking out 10 over eight strong innings to solidify his status as the frontrunner for the American League Most Valuable Player Award.

Ohtani, though, gave up a pair of solo homers and was stuck with a no-decision before the Angels fell, 3-2, in 10 innings in the series finale at Angel Stadium. Ohtani came up short in his quest for his 10th win, but he’s 9-2 with a 3.28 ERA and 146 strikeouts in 123 1/3 innings over 22 starts. 

"He did beautifully," Angels manager Joe Maddon said. "He competed again. He started missing bats again. He had pretty much everything working today. He gave up two homers; otherwise, he was outstanding. It was really well done."

It was yet another statement from Ohtani, who also ranks third in the Majors with 44 homers and is expected to get at least one more start on the mound this year.

The dazzling outing put to rest any concerns about his health, as he opened the game with a 1-2-3 inning with two strikeouts and saw his fastball touch 99 mph in his final inning. There was a concern on Wednesday he might be shut down for the season, but Ohtani said he felt fine during his outing.

“I didn’t take it too seriously; it was just some soreness from my last couple outings that wasn’t going away in time,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “I just needed a couple days. Physically, I felt fine. If I had a lower pitch count, I wanted to go back out for the ninth.”

He was also efficient throughout the afternoon, as he needed 108 pitches to get through eight frames, which tied a career high set on Aug. 18. His splitter was essentially unhittable, as he threw it a season-high 55 times and registered 17 swings and misses with it, including nine strikeouts. He coaxed six swings and misses with his slider and three with his fastball, mostly staying away from his slider and cutter and relying on his splitter.

"I think he was experimenting with different grips and he had good command of it,” Maddon said. “You saw the swing-and-miss and weak contact. But he's based on feel, and when he's feeling something, he's going to stay with it and not force something else. And he finished strong, throwing 99 mph to [Matt] Chapman before he got him. He's just a unique athlete."

But Ohtani gave up a solo homer in the third on a 1-2 slider to Yan Gomes that caught too much of the plate. And he surrendered another in the fourth on a first-pitch fastball to Chapman. He otherwise was dominant, scattering five hits and walking three (two intentional, both to Matt Olson).

“I felt good command for all my pitches, but giving up those two homers was very regrettable,” Ohtani said. “I've been giving up a lot of solo homers recently and it's something I need to work on."

After striking out the side in the seventh, Ohtani went back out for the eighth at 90 pitches and found himself in some trouble, loading the bases with one out. But he got Jed Lowrie to pop up for the second out and struck out Chapman on a 2-2 splitter to escape the jam. Ohtani let out a huge celebratory fist pump as he left the mound.

"It goes to show you why he's an MVP candidate," Gomes said. "He's got probably one of the best split-fingers I've ever seen and it was pretty hard to lay off. He went deep in the game and that's what they needed him to do. He did a great job.”

Offensively, Ohtani walked twice (once intentional) and tried to spark a rally in the sixth by dropping down a bunt against Frankie Montas. But Ohtani couldn’t beat out the throw to first from Montas, who limited the Angels to just one hit over seven innings. He also struck out to end the eighth against lefty reliever Jake Diekman.

The Angels scored twice in the ninth to keep Ohtani from getting the loss but ultimately fell in extras, as they finished their season series against Oakland 4-15.

“We need to hit their pitchers better and have a full squad to really get a true indicator of what’s going on,” Maddon said. “It’s one of those things where you’d like to see what you can do full strength against these guys over a full season.”