Ohtani's dominant stretch comes to sudden end

After striking out 11 in six scoreless innings, righty allows six runs in 7th

July 23rd, 2022

ATLANTA -- With the Angels scuffling heading into the All-Star break, decided not to pitch in the Midsummer Classic so that he could be ready to start the first game of the second half in an effort to help the club create some much-needed momentum.

But like so many well-intentioned plans for the Angels this year, it didn’t work out that way, as Ohtani dominated for six innings before it all unraveled in the seventh. The right-hander gave up six runs in the frame and was hurt by a lack of run support in an 8-1 loss to the Braves on Friday at Truist Park.

Interim manager Phil Nevin lamented the lack of offense behind Ohtani and admitted it has to be wearing on the two-way star. The Angels recorded just five hits on the night and didn’t score until Jonathan Villar hit a solo homer in the ninth.

“It's certainly got to be hard on [Ohtani],” Nevin said. “I think every time he goes out there, he feels like he can't give up a run. And for a while there he didn't. It's hard to pitch when you know your offense is struggling. When you're pitching like he does every night and understanding one little blooper or mistake can hurt you, it's hard to pitch like that, and that makes what he's done over the last two months even more impressive."

Ohtani, the reigning American League MVP, had been dominant over his last six starts, going 6-0 with a 0.45 ERA without allowing more than one earned run in any of those outings. He looked headed toward yet another strong start, as he had 11 strikeouts through six scoreless innings. He had allowed just one hit to that point -- a double from Austin Riley in the second -- and had retired 15 straight batters. And despite his 11 strikeouts, he had thrown just 71 pitches.

But it quickly went south in the seventh, as Ohtani walked Dansby Swanson on six pitches before former A’s slugger Matt Olson launched a two-run blast to right on an 0-1 splitter. Olson was 1-for-13 in his career against Ohtani before connecting on the homer.

"When I was coming into the game, I thought the team that scored first would have a really good chance of winning the game,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “But I gave up that two-run shot and it completely gave them the momentum on their side, especially with the way our team has been hitting recently."

Ohtani then gave up three consecutive singles to Riley, Travis d’Arnaud and Eddie Rosario to bring home another run. He got Marcell Ozuna to fly out to center, but Orlando Arcia followed with a three-run shot to left on a first-pitch slider that caught too much of the zone. It knocked Ohtani out of the game after having thrown 92 pitches.

“Really for six innings, they didn't have a chance,” Nevin said. “He kind of lost it a little bit with Swanson on the 3-2 pitch and then the split just didn't come out right. It was a couple of soft hits after that. I had [Aaron] Loup ready for Rosario and looking back, I probably should've got [Ohtani] out. But you look at him as invincible sometimes, and it just didn't work out. That’s on me."

Ohtani had allowed six earned runs in his last seven starts combined, but he matched that total with his rough seventh frame. He also hadn't allowed a homer or more than one earned run in a start since June 2 against the Yankees. Ohtani fell to 9-5 and his ERA went from 2.38 in 15 starts to 2.80 after his outing against the Braves.

"The two home runs I gave up were bad pitches and deserved to be hit as home runs, especially from a great team like the Braves,” Ohtani said. “The other hits I gave up, I thought I made some good pitches and was a little unlucky, but I regret that inning."

But it wasn’t all bad for Ohtani, who struck out at least 10 batters for a fifth consecutive start, which is the third-longest streak in Angels history behind only Nolan Ryan's seven-start streak with at least 10 strikeouts in 1977 and his six-game streak from 1972-73. Ohtani has reached double-digits in strikeouts eight times this season, which leads the Majors.

"I was getting swings and misses and was able to keep control of my pitch count until that last inning,” Ohtani said. “But like I said, that last inning, I regret."