Ohtani strikes out 11, lowers ERA to 0.64

April 22nd, 2023

ANAHEIM -- Despite posting a 0.86 ERA through his first four starts, two-way star was still bothered by one thing.

He was frustrated he had walked the first batter in each of his first four outings and vowed to correct it. Ohtani did just that and more against the Royals on Friday, striking out the side in a dominant first inning en route to an 11-strikeout performance over seven scoreless frames in a 2-0 win at Angel Stadium. Ohtani allowed just two hits and two walks while lowering his ERA to 0.64 through 28 innings, which is an Angels record through the first five starts of a season.

“It was just a vintage performance,” manager Phil Nevin said. “That first inning was as dominant as I've seen at this level, really.”

Ohtani also finished his outing with a flurry, striking out the final six batters he faced, while making Kansas City hitters look foolish with his array of 100 mph fastballs, unhittable sweepers and knee-buckling curveballs. His 11 strikeouts were a season high, and he now leads the Majors with 12 games of at least 10 strikeouts dating back to last season.

And he did it even though the Angels got in late Thursday night after a cross-country flight from New York, and while pitching on fewer than five days’ rest for the first time in his career. Ohtani was limited to just two innings and 31 pitches against the Red Sox on Monday because of a lengthy rain delay, so the Angels opted to move up his scheduled start by two days because they are trying to maximize as many outings as they can out of him this season.

“My body actually felt really good,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “I got enough sleep so it didn’t really affect me.”

Among his 102 pitches, Ohtani registered an impressive 22 swings and misses, including eight with his sweeper, four with his fastball, four with his curveball, three with his cutter, two with his splitter and one with his slider.

He again didn’t allow an extra-base hit and has held opposing hitters to a .092 batting average against and a .115 slugging percentage. Opposing batters have managed only eight hits against him in 28 innings -- six singles and two doubles.

“It's probably the best stuff I've ever seen,” said catcher , who connected on a two-run homer in the third in his season debut. “It's fun for me to sit back there and just catch pitches.”

Ohtani was locked in from the start and retired the first six batters he faced before giving up a leadoff single to Edward Olivares in the third. But he induced a double-play grounder from Nicky Lopez before getting Jackie Bradley Jr. to pop up to end the inning. Ohtani showed off his incredible instincts on the double play, as he purposely let the ball get past him to get to shortstop Zach Neto to start the double play.

“The comebacker, I pulled my glove back because I trusted that he would be there and make that play,” Ohtani said. “And he sure did.”

He ran into some trouble in the fourth after he walked MJ Melendez and gave up a single to Vinnie Pasquantino, but was again able to get out of it with the help of his infield defense. Neto made a nice pick on a hard grounder from Salvador Perez to start an inning-ending double play.

Ohtani finished his start on a tear, striking out the final six batters he faced after he walked Lopez to open the sixth. His final strikeout came on an 82.7 mph sweeper to Michael Massey, and Ohtani slapped his hand into his glove above his head in celebration.

“It's just a different eye-level thing and you see the swings they take,” Nevin said of Ohtani’s different breaking pitches. “The curveball is kind of another weapon for him that he doesn't use that often. But when he does, it's very successful.”

Ohtani got help offensively from an unexpected source in Wallach, who had his contract selected from Triple-A Salt Lake before the game after Logan O'Hoppe was placed on the 10-day injured list with left shoulder inflammation. O’Hoppe had previously caught Ohtani’s first four starts, but Ohtani was impressed by Wallach.

“He was incredible,” Ohtani said. “He did a great job framing some of the close pitches and it made me feel good. He also hit that home run and had some really good at-bats.”