OAKLAND -- It was just the first game of the year, but it was yet another reminder that if the Angels are to compete in 2023, they’re going to need to support two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani, who is set to be a free agent after the season.
Fresh off his MVP performance with Team Japan in the World Baseball Classic, Ohtani turned in a dominant start against the A’s on Opening Day on Thursday, but it wasn’t enough in a 2-1 loss, as lefty Aaron Loup couldn’t hold a one-run lead in the eighth. Ohtani struck out 10 over six scoreless innings, scattering two hits and three walks, but was stuck with a no-decision, as the Angels lost their season opener for the ninth time over the last 10 seasons. They managed just five singles on the night.
However, manager Phil Nevin said he’s not concerned.
“We’re going to score more runs, I’m not worried about that,” Nevin said. “It’s Opening Day. Things get weird. But Shohei was really impressive tonight. He got to a number [93 pitches] we were comfortable with. I thought they all threw the ball fine but Loupy, the first hitter kinda blocked one to right and the pitch he wanted back was the 0-2 pitch that [Tony] Kemp hit.”
Ohtani, the AL MVP in 2021 and the runner-up to Aaron Judge last year, had some trouble with his PitchCom device early and walked the first batter he faced on four pitches. He had to ditch the PitchCom for the rest of the first inning, but it worked in the second and he settled down from there. Ohtani had no-hit stuff, as he leaned heavily on his sweeping slider early in the game before ramping up his fastball velocity and mixing in more splitters, sinkers and curveballs.
“I think he would’ve been even more unhittable if he had the PitchCom in the first inning,” said catcher Logan O'Hoppe, who had an RBI single in the fifth. “We had to stick with the slider and cutter and couldn’t really go with the split. But I thought he was unhittable the whole outing.”
Ohtani lost his no-hit bid in the fourth, however, surrendering a one-out single to Aledmys Díaz. Seth Brown followed with a double over left fielder Taylor Ward’s head, but Díaz was held at third base.
Ohtani locked in after that, as Jesús Aguilar and Ramón Laureano essentially had no chance against him.
After throwing a pair of 99 mph fastballs to get ahead of Aguilar, Ohtani finished him with a 92.5 mph splitter that darted under Aguilar's bat for a strikeout.
Ohtani fell behind Laureano with a 2-0 count but then pumped a 98.8 mph heater for a foul tip, a 99.3 mph four-seamer for a whiff and a 100.7 mph fastball to strike him out to end the inning. Ohtani hopped off the mound and pumped his fist after the strikeout, which kept the game scoreless.
“That sequence when he got second and third, he went from dominant to unhittable,” said fellow superstar Mike Trout. “He threw that splitter at like 93 [mph], which was nasty. And then he throws 101 to the next guy. He pitched good. It just stinks we lost.”
It was Oakland’s lone real chance to score against Ohtani, although he did walk a batter in both the fifth and sixth innings. But he ended both frames with a strikeout, including getting Aguilar with a perfect sweeping slider on the outside corner to cap his outing. It was Ohtani’s 10th strikeout of the night and was reminiscent of his memorable strikeout of Trout to end the Classic.
Ohtani was also helped by his defense in the fifth on an unbelievable -- and a bit lucky -- catch from right fielder Hunter Renfroe. Jace Peterson hit a hard liner to right and Renfroe misplayed it, only to recover at the last second by sticking his glove out for a no-look catch. Renfroe played it cool, but Ohtani stood at the mound with his arms held high in the air to celebrate the incredible play.
“I thought it was going to be a hit, 100 percent,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “But he just kinda of threw his glove out there. I was happy to see it.”
Ohtani would’ve been happier to see the Angels win, but he agreed with Nevin that the revamped offense should be better this season -- it was just the victim of some bad luck on Thursday.
“We got a lot of guys on base and had guys in scoring position but lacked that one big hit,” said Ohtani, who went 1-for-3 with an intentional walk. “Obviously, we wanted to score more.”