Ohtani returns with 7 K's in 4 scoreless

April 21st, 2021

ANAHEIM -- It was a successful, albeit wild, return to the mound for two-way star in the Angels' 6-2 win over the Rangers on Tuesday at Angel Stadium, as he threw four scoreless innings but also walked six and hit a batter.

Ohtani, pitching for the first time since April 4 because of a blister on his right middle finger, surrendered just one hit and struck out seven, including six with his splitter. Ohtani was expected to be limited to roughly 75 pitches, and he threw 80 on the night, but only 37 for strikes. He was also held out of the lineup in case he exited the game early because the Angels would lose the designated hitter when he’s taken out of the game. But he will be back in the lineup as DH on Wednesday.

"His stuff is so good, he’s able to fight through these walks," Angels manager Joe Maddon said. "As he builds his command, you’ll see him pitch deeper into games. Teams have been willing to wait him out because they’re not able to square him up."

He had slightly lower velocity than he showed in his season debut, but the right-hander was able to pitch effectively despite his command issues. Ohtani's fastball topped out at 97.7 mph and averaged 95.6 mph after he threw as hard as 101.1 mph in his first start of the year. But he’s noted that his blister affects him the most when throwing his four-seamer. Ohtani registered 13 swings and misses on the night, including seven with his splitter, four with his fastball and one each with his curve and slider, but Ohtani said he purposely threw his fastball less often than usual.

"I was trying to avoid getting a blister by changing my pitch type,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “But I think I'll be ready to go for the next one. I think the lack of velocity is probably due to me trying to avoid the whole blister thing, but I was able to make some good pitches with my offspeed, so I think we're good for my next start."

There were several jams he had to escape, and none bigger than in the first inning, when Ohtani got Isiah Kiner-Falefa to ground out to open the game before issuing three straight walks to load the bases. But Ohtani was able to strike out Nick Solak and Willie Calhoun to get out of the inning unscathed. Both strikeouts came via his splitter.

"The splitter was the only pitch working for me," Ohtani said. "All the other pitches were kind of all over the place. But I was able to get through the outing. Overall, I felt like I was battling myself and the blister more than the Texas lineup."

Ohtani walked Adolis García with one out in the second inning, but García was caught stealing before Brock Holt could drop in a single to left-center field. It was the lone hit allowed by Ohtani and only the third surrendered by him in 8 2/3 innings this season. He’s posted an impressive 1.04 ERA with 14 strikeouts in his two starts and has yet to allow an extra-base hit, but he's walked 11.

He was tough on himself after the game, rating his control a zero out of 100.

"It's definitely something I need to improve on for my next outing," Ohtani said. "The intensity is obviously different from a bullpen and a game, so I need to work on my command."

He kept the Rangers off the board, but Ohtani couldn’t turn in any clean innings, as he walked Nate Lowe in the third and then walked García and plunked Holt with two outs in the fourth. But Ohtani got out of trouble yet again, striking out Kiner-Falefa on a splitter for his seventh strikeout of the game.

Despite the control issues, catcher Kurt Suzuki raved about Ohtani’s stuff, saying it was similar to when he caught aces Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg with the Nationals over the last two seasons.

"I think he just had some rust, which you kind of expect when he hasn't been in a game situation in two weeks," said Suzuki, who hit his first Angels home run in the seventh. "His main focus was on executing pitches when he needed to, and that's what Shohei did tonight. He can go out there even without his best stuff and throw up some zeros. That was huge for us."