ANAHEIM -- The strikeouts keep coming for two-way star Shohei Ohtani, who reached the 10-strikeout mark for a sixth straight outing on Thursday against the Rangers. He's now just one away from tying the franchise record of seven straight such starts set by Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan in 1977. The only other pitchers with longer such streaks in AL/NL history are Pedro Martínez, Randy Johnson, Chris Sale, Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander.
Ohtani struck out 11 over six strong innings and now leads the Majors with nine starts with double-digit strikeouts this season. But it came in a 2-0 loss at Angel Stadium, as Ohtani gave up two runs on eight hits and the scuffling offense again struggled despite Rangers starter Spencer Howard entering his start with a 7.11 ERA.
“He was great,” said interim manager Phil Nevin. “He’s amazing. We just can’t get anything going offensively. Just him knowing that every pitch he throws has a small margin for error because of what our offense has been, it makes it even more impressive what he does.”
It was yet another frustrating defeat for Ohtani, who fell to 9-6 with a 2.81 ERA in 17 starts this year and didn’t receive any run support while on the mound for a second straight outing. Ohtani, who is set to be a free agent after next season, has seen his name pop up in trade rumors leading up to Tuesday's Trade Deadline. It remains unlikely that Ohtani will be moved, but he's aware of the speculation about his future with the Angels.
"Regardless of where I'm playing, I'm going to give it my all and try to win that ballgame in front of me,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “I'm with the Angels right now, and I'm very thankful for what they've done. I love my team and my teammates. Right now, I'm an Angel, and that's all I can focus on at this point."
Ohtani has been a strikeout machine this year, as he's punched out 145 batters in 99 1/3 innings, including 68 strikeouts over his last 39 innings. It helped him escape a few jams against the Rangers, including when they loaded the bases with nobody out after three straight singles to open the game. Ohtani responded by striking out the next three batters and raised his fist in celebration as he headed back to the dugout.
"I would not want to face him,” said Rangers manager Chris Woodward. “We get the bases loaded right there, and he just turns it up to another gear. That slider is like a Wiffle ball. We were fortunate to get a couple of runs off him. He’s tough to beat, so we did something pretty good."
Ohtani, though, was hurt by a solo homer from Nathaniel Lowe in the fourth on a 1-1 slider and an RBI double from Corey Seager in the fifth on a 2-2 curveball over the heart of the plate. He surrendered a leadoff triple to Lowe in the sixth but struck out the next two batters before getting Kole Calhoun to line out to right to get out of the jam on his 98th and final pitch of the night.
"The home run ended up being the difference,” Ohtani said. “It's very regrettable. And I feel like the second run I gave up was kind of a dagger."
Ohtani relied heavily on his slider, as he threw it 50 times compared to just 17 four-seam fastballs. He also mixed in his splitter and cutter, getting 14 swings and misses with the slider, five with his splitter and one with his cutter and fastball. He threw 45 straight non-fastballs but notably dialed up the velocity in the sixth, reaching as high as 100.5 mph with his four-seamer against Calhoun.
“A couple of fastballs were hit in the first inning, one really hard from [Marcus] Semien, so [Ohtani] really abandoned that,” Nevin said. “At one point, he was forty-something pitches in a row without throwing a fastball. But he did go back to it a few times. He just knows how to pitch. He knew what was going to get them out after that first inning.
“When a hitter is geared up for a fastball like his, it’s pretty hard to hit any breaking balls, let alone the ones he throws.”