Ohtani rockets HR No. 44 in rare shaky start

Two-way star pulled after 3 1/3 IP, but Maddon ‘thought he battled well’

September 11th, 2021

HOUSTON -- It was a good night at the plate for two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani, but not so much on the mound on Friday against the Astros. 

Ohtani added to his Major League-leading total with his 44th homer of the year and walked twice, once intentionally, but lasted just 3 1/3 innings as a pitcher. He was charged with six runs on a season-high nine hits in a 10-5 loss in the series opener at Minute Maid Park. It was Ohtani’s first loss as a pitcher since May 28, as he fell to 9-2 with a 3.36 ERA in 21 starts. He also became the first player in the modern era (since 1900) to homer in the first inning and be the losing pitcher in the same game, per STATS.

"He's always ready,” said Angels manager Joe Maddon of Ohtani’s homer. “But [the Astros] were just working good at-bats, which they're capable of doing. The strikeout just wasn't part of his game tonight. He just didn't have his best stuff. There was no swing and miss tonight. But I thought he battled well.”

Ohtani has been locked in a chase for the Major League home run crown, as he now leads Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Salvador Perez by two homers. It was his first homer since Saturday and his 11th in 50 games since the All-Star break. He smacked 33 blasts in 84 games in the first half.

No Angels player has ever led the Majors in homers outright -- Reggie Jackson tied for the MLB lead with 39 blasts in '82 -- while the club record is 47 homers by Troy Glaus in 2000. With one more homer, Ohtani will tie Mike Trout for the second-most homers in a season by an Angels player, and he said his goal is to try to lead the Majors in home runs. 

"It's definitely something I'm shooting for,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “I just need to get back to the basics and try to have quality at-bats as much as I can."

Ohtani worked the count full against lefty Framber Valdez before ripping a sinker to right field to give the Angels an early lead. Ohtani got all of it, as it had an exit velocity of 114.7 mph and went a projected 368 feet, per Statcast. It was the fourth-hardest hit homer by a pitcher since Statcast was introduced in 2015 and the top five marks are all held by Ohtani. He’s homered three times as a pitcher this season.

But Ohtani uncharacteristically struggled on the mound, as he had been on a roll since early July, going 6-0 with a 2.25 ERA over his last eight starts. It was apparent early, as he gave up two singles in the first but escaped the jam. His scuffles also came after he threw a career-high 117 pitches against the Rangers in his last start on Sept. 3.

"I would say there was a little bit of soreness left from my last outing,” Ohtani said. “But there's only a couple weeks left in the season, so I'm focused on finishing strong and staying healthy."

He wasn’t quite as fortunate in the third, when he gave up a one-out double to Jose Altuve that got past Phil Gosselin down the third-base line. Alex Bregman beat the shift with a slow roller into right-center field to score Altuve before Yordan Alvarez ripped an RBI double off the right-field wall. Carlos Correa followed with an RBI single to make it a three-run inning. 

“We got lucky today that his splitter was not sharp,” Correa said. “When his splitter is working, especially with two strikes, it's tough to get to him. Today, it didn't seem like he had it. Today, he relied more on the slider, and that's what we pretty much see every day -- fastball, sliders.” 

The Angels, though, scored twice in the fourth to retake the lead and give Ohtani the chance to pick up his 10th win of the season. But he hit the first batter he faced with an errant splitter, gave up a single to Chas McCormick and then uncorked a wild pitch on a fastball to advance both runners.

After Altuve singled home a run with one out, Ohtani was removed after 77 pitches in favor of reliever Andrew Wantz. Wantz gave up a two-run double to Bregman with both runs getting charged to Ohtani. 

“There was no reason to push him right there,” Maddon said. “It's one of those things when he's not having his best day, you don't want to expend him on nights like tonight as a pitcher. I just thought it was the right thing to do right there. Wantz almost got out of it. If we could've gotten Bregman, that game could've had a different tone. But they got us right there."