Ohtani pitches, hits and runs through Rox

July 27th, 2021

ANAHEIM -- If there were one example to point to how versatile is, it would be the first inning of Monday’s series opener against the Rockies, as the two-way star did pretty much everything in the opening frame of the 6-2 win at Angel Stadium.

He threw a scoreless top half that included a strikeout of Colorado leadoff hitter Raimel Tapia. Ohtani then stepped up to plate in bottom of the inning and drove David Fletcher home with an RBI single, stole second base and scored after Jared Walsh singled to right field.

With the hit, RBI and stolen base, Ohtani became the first pitcher to get all three in the same game while playing in an AL ballpark since Luis Tiant did so for Minnesota on April 26, 1970, against Detroit. The stolen base was the first by an Angels pitcher since Ismael Valdez on June 8, 2001, and he's also the first Halos pitcher to swipe a bag in a home game since Nolan Ryan on Oct. 4, 1972.

“He wants to play when he pitches because he thinks it's imperative that he contributes to the win offensively,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “He feels like it's his duty to perform and score runs and augment the situation, both hitting and pitching. He feels that strongly.”

Ohtani, who ranks in the 85th percentile for whiff rate among MLB pitchers, per Statcast, didn’t have his usual swing-and-miss stuff on the mound -- inducing 10 whiffs -- but he did have one of his most efficient outings.

The two-way star limited the Rockies to one run on five hits -- with no walks -- in seven innings. It was just the third time in his 15 starts in 2021 that Ohtani completed seven innings as well as the third time he didn’t walk a batter.

“He had really good stuff from the beginning,” Maddon said. “He did what we've been talking about. He'll pitch one way, and then all of a sudden, he'll flip the script and then he’ll come back, like he got the splitter involved late. He does not want the hitter to see the same thing all the time. He knows what he's doing out there. When he's throwing the strike with his fastball, he could do what you saw tonight almost every time out there.”

Ohtani punctuated his night by fanning two of the three Rockies he faced in the seventh inning. That included getting Dom Nuñez, who homered in the fifth, to strike out swinging on a 100 mph fastball.

Ohtani finished with just five punchouts, but he said part of his plan was to get deeper into the game and not worry about strikeouts.

“The first six innings, I was trying to keep my pitch count on the lower side, so I wasn't really going for that strikeout,” Ohtani said. “The seventh thing, I knew that was gonna be my last one so I was trying to go for the strikeouts. And also [Nunez] hit that homer off of me in his last at-bat, so I had something left in the tank.”

The quality outing continues a bounce-back stretch from Ohtani after he was chased from his June 30 start on the road at Yankee Stadium, where he gave up seven runs in just two-thirds of an inning. Since that early exit, Ohtani has posted a 1.35 ERA in 20 innings over three starts in July. He has also limited batters to a .181 average and boasts a 0.70 WHIP in that span.

“Ever since then, I haven't really changed anything drastic. Little changes here and there, but, I mean, nothing really changed from that outing,” Ohtani said.

For Maddon, Ohtani’s improvement since that rough outing against the Yankees demonstrates his work ethic and desire to always find ways to improve.

“He's so motivated,” Maddon said. “Nobody's doing what he's doing and nobody's done what he's doing, if that makes any sense. … He did not like what happened in New York at all and said, 'I'm gonna do something about it.' That's how he is, 'I'm gonna do something about it.'

“That's what I get from him. He has a couple of bad days at the plate, 'I'm gonna do something about it.' He's a self-starter. Self-motivated. He's good enough that he's able to make adjustments on the fly.”