Ohtani piles up 11 strikeouts to cap epic month

June 30th, 2022

ANAHEIM -- Two-way star Shohei Ohtani has been in a groove both offensively and on the mound this month, and he continued his run of dominance in Wednesday's 4-1 victory over the White Sox at Angel Stadium.

Ohtani struck out 11 over 5 2/3 shutout innings to extend his scoreless streak to a career-high 21 2/3 innings. He scattered five hits -- all singles -- and allowed one walk to improve to 7-4 with a 2.68 ERA in 13 starts this year.

"He just continues to go out and take games like this very seriously because he knows what's on the line,” said acting manager Ray Montgomery. “And he did it again."

He's also struck out 101 batters in 74 innings this season, as his 12.28 strikeouts per nine innings ranks second among all pitchers with at least 70 innings pitched behind only White Sox right-hander Dylan Cease (13.44). Ohtani set a career high with 13 strikeouts in his last start against the Royals on June 22, a day after he set a career-high with eight RBIs at the plate.

Ohtani hasn't allowed a run in three straight starts and has struck out 30 batters in that stretch. Only nine pitchers have accomplished that feat since 2000, and if that's not impressive enough, Ohtani has also incredibly hit four homers at the plate over that span.

The reigning American League MVP, Ohtani has been on a roll in June, as he's posted a 1.52 ERA with 38 strikeouts in 29 2/3 innings. His slider has emerged as his best pitch during this stretch and it was again elite against the White Sox; he threw it 36 times and registered 10 called strikes and 12 swings and misses. He recorded five strikeouts with his slider, five with his splitter and one with his curveball -- all swinging.

"[The offspeed] was working for me, especially early in the game, but I think they started sitting on soft stuff later so I started throwing more fastballs,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “I was just going with the flow."

He’s also been heating up at the plate, as he had an 11-game hit streak from June 4 to June 16 and smacked the hardest-hit homer of his career on Saturday against the Mariners with a 118 mph shot. He went 3-for-3 with a homer and two doubles on Tuesday and walked in the first inning on Wednesday. He's batting .298/.398/.574 with six homers and 17 RBIs in 26 games in June and is hitting .265/.350/.505 with 17 homers and 49 RBIs in 75 games this year.

"There's nothing in particular that's really changed,” Ohtani said. “Just having better at-bats and putting the ball in play and getting good results."

Ohtani’s only issue on Wednesday was his pitch count, as he threw 108 pitches to record 17 outs, including 25 in the first inning. He pitched around two singles in the first by striking out the side and again found himself in a jam with the bases loaded and two outs in the fourth before fanning Josh Harrison on a 1-2 slider.

“He did a great job on the mound tonight,” said White Sox starter Michael Kopech, who gave up four runs over 5 1/3 innings. “Kind of answered all of his own problems -- or his team’s own problems -- that they may have struggled with offensively. They had a couple of big hits and came through for him.”

Ohtani was lifted in the sixth inning after striking out Gavin Sheets on a 3-2 slider. Lefty José Quijada came in and allowed a single, but got Leury Garcia to ground out to end the inning. Ohtani was still showing elite velocity in his latter innings, reaching as high as 101 mph with his fastball in the fifth, though he did grab at his back a few times during the game. He said he’s fine, especially with an off-day looming on Thursday.

"It's kind of uncharted waters what he's been doing the last two years,” Montgomery said. “I think he did everything he could for us tonight. I just thought that was the right time right there."

Ohtani lamented not getting out of the sixth, but said he understood the decision with his high pitch count. He said he was pleased to help the team get back on track yet again, as he’s picked up the win in each of his last four outings, all of which came after a loss.

"This one was huge for us because we wanted to win the series,” Ohtani said. “I think it'll lead to better stuff down the road."