200 K's: Another first, and more history for Ohtani

Battling control, weather, 2-way star first to log 200 strikeouts, hit 30 HRs in a season

September 24th, 2022

MINNEAPOLIS -- Two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani is essentially creating his own milestones.

Ohtani struck out seven batters over five-plus innings to reach 200 strikeouts on the season for the first time in his career in a 4-2 win over the Twins on Friday at Target Field.

Ohtani, who has 34 homers in 146 games as a hitter, became the first player in AL or NL history with 30 homers at the plate and 200 strikeouts on the mound in a season. Previously, the most homers hit by a pitcher with 200 strikeouts in a season was seven blasts, which was done by Hall of Famer Don Drysdale in 1965 and Earl Wilson in 1966.

“That’s a big milestone for me,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “It just shows I’ve been able to consistently take the mound every sixth day.”

Ohtani, the reigning AL MVP, remains in a heated MVP race again this season, along with Yankees slugger Aaron Judge, who has hit 60 homers and has a chance for the Triple Crown. Ohtani’s also making a case for the Cy Young Award, although he didn’t help his cause with a season-high six walks against the Twins, as he didn’t have his best control in cold and rainy conditions. But he did go 1-for-4 at the plate with an RBI single in the seventh and is batting .271/.358/.534 with 34 homers, 28 doubles and 90 RBIs this year.

Ohtani, who gave up two runs on three hits, explained it was difficult for him to adjust to the wet mound.

“I was having trouble with my landing spot, so I was afraid I might slip a little bit,” Ohtani said. “But this is going to happen in the future, so it’s something I have to get used to and work on. But I never really got used to it, and it showed with the six walks I gave up. I wasn’t really feeling all that great.”

Ohtani, however, has still pitched like an ace this season, as he improved to 14-8 with a 2.47 ERA in 26 starts. He’s also struck out 203 batters in 153 innings, giving him the highest strikeout rate in the Majors. He’s scheduled to make two more starts this year and needs 162 innings to qualify for the ERA title.

The other top competitors for the AL Cy Young Award are the White Sox’s Dylan Cease, who is 14-7 with a 2.13 ERA and 217 strikeouts in 173 innings, and Houston’s Justin Verlander, who is 17-4 with a 1.82 ERA and 167 strikeouts in 163 innings.

“I think he’s right in that talk,” said interim manager Phil Nevin. “He’s going to get there with the innings. Personally, there’s nobody I’d want out there more if I wanted to win a big game. I certainly think he should be in the discussion.”

Ohtani reached the 200-strikeout mark by getting Gary Sánchez to strike out on a 2-2 curveball for the second out of the fourth inning. With his strikeout of Sánchez, he became the first Angels player to record 200 strikeouts in a season since Jered Weaver in 2010. And he became the fourth Japanese-born player to accomplish the feat, joining Yu Darvish, Hideo Nomo and Daisuke Matsuzaka.

“It’s unbelievable what he’s doing,” said right fielder Taylor Ward, who homered twice to reach 21 on the year. “He comes in every day and does his work. It’s just impressive to see his routine every day.”

Ohtani, though, scuffled early in his start, as he loaded the bases with one out in the first after walking two batters and hitting another with an errant slider. He got out of the jam with the help of a double play, but the second out wasn’t a force play, so the run scored to give the Twins an early lead.

Ohtani settled down from there and didn’t allow his first hit until Luis Arraez singled with two outs in the fifth. But his command issues resurfaced in the sixth, when he gave up a leadoff single to Nick Gordon on an 0-2 fastball, walked Gio Urshela, gave up an RBI single to Jake Cave and exited with the bases loaded and nobody out after walking Sánchez on a questionable pitch that appeared to be in the strike zone. Lefty Aaron Loup came in and escaped the jam with a strikeout and a double play to preserve the lead for Ohtani.

“I think the biggest flaw was giving up the leadoff single to Nick Gordon [in the sixth] because I had him in a 0-2 count and I made a pitch over the plate,” Ohtani said. “I had a couple pitches to play with now that I look back on it. But Loup was huge for me. I feel like he should get the win more than me.”