Ohtani flirts with perfecto after making history at plate

April 21st, 2022

HOUSTON -- Shohei Ohtani flirted with perfection on Wednesday, and for five-plus innings he looked unhittable. That’s because he was -- not to mention he made history before even getting on the hill, becoming the first starting pitcher to bat twice before throwing a pitch since at least 1900 in the Angels' 6-0 shutout of the Astros at Minute Maid Park.

Ohtani, who entered the game having lost consecutive starts for the first time in his career, was spot on. His stat line read: One hit and one walk over six scoreless innings with 12 strikeouts, which matched his career high from his second start in the Majors on April 8, 2018, against the A's. His high in Japan was 16, set on July 9, 2014. At the plate, he was 2-for-4 with a double, two RBIs, one walk and one run scored.

“Getting six runs in the first and starting off a game like that, it’s kind of hard to get locked in and get the outs,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “But I felt I was able to get one pitch, one batter at a time, and I was able to accomplish that.

“Since we have an off-day tomorrow, my focus was not to try to go long in the game, but get as many outs as I can and hand it over to the bullpen.”

Angels manager Joe Maddon said this was as determined as he’s seen Ohtani on the mound.

“He was at his best tonight, that was a great performance,” Maddon said. “I think he just had enough of Houston giving him a hard time, and he wanted to go out there and do something about it, both on the mound and at the plate.”

Entering Wednesday, the Angels had lost five of Ohtani’s six career starts against the Astros. He was 0-3 with a 5.92 ERA, with the three losses being his most against an opponent.

Ohtani said he was aware that Houston batters were not getting on base and that he had something special brewing.

“I was aware of it, but the pitch count was getting up there,” Ohtani said. “I probably wasn’t going to finish [the game].”

Of Ohtani’s 81 pitches, he had 20 swings and misses.

“His stuff was extraordinary,” Maddon said. “You can’t even describe it. And again, from the field level, it was incredible. From him, it’s the best I’ve seen.”

Ohtani was most effective with his slider, which he threw 35 times.

“The slider felt good, so I [stayed with it],” Ohtani said.

Max Stassi, who caught Ohtani on Wednesday, marveled over the two-way star's arsenal of pitches.

“Last time we played, he threw a lot of curveballs. Today, it just happened to be the slider,” Stassi said. “He was super locked in. He was relentless attacking the zone. He was in the driver’s seat all night.”

The perfect game was broken up with one out in the sixth on a single to center by Jason Castro on a 3-2 pitch. Second baseman Tyler Wade made an effort to catch the ball, but it clearly was out of reach.

Two batters later, Jeremy Peña walked on a full count, putting runners on first and second with two outs. Ohtani got out of the inning by getting Michael Brantley to ground out to second, and that was Ohtani’s final batter of the night.

“He just looks comfortable, he looks healthy,” said Castro, who caught Ohtani when he briefly played for the Angels in 2020. “When I was catching him, he was coming off of his [Tommy John] surgery. He looks confident in his health and back to the type of pitcher everyone expected him to be.”