Shohei Ohtani continues to prove that he’s healthy and ready for two-way status in 2021, as he reached 100 mph during his 35-pitch live bullpen session at Tempe Diablo Stadium on Saturday.
It’s another positive sign for Ohtani, who topped out at 97 mph in his last live BP session on Wednesday, as he is being built up as a starting pitcher and designated hitter out of the gate without any restrictions. Ohtani has impressed manager Joe Maddon, who said Ohtani is already looking better than he did at any point last season.
“I’m loving it,” Maddon said via Zoom on Saturday. “I think he’s walking around very confident right now because he feels good. Pitching-wise, his arm stroke is much better. I thought he was pushing the ball last year, but now he’s in a better slot. Hitting-wise, the balance in his feet and the path of his bat, I know it’s just batting practice, but I didn’t see it like that last year.”
Ohtani has shown that kind of velocity in the past, throwing seven pitches at 100-mph plus during his rookie season in 2018. It was the third-highest total among starting pitchers that year, per baseballsavant.com. Last year, though, Ohtani only reached 97 mph once in 80 pitches thrown.
But Ohtani is healthy this year and further removed from his Tommy John surgery in 2018 and his left knee surgery in ’19. Last season, Ohtani had trouble with his command on the mound and was limited to just two starts after experiencing an elbow/forearm strain. It also seemed to affect his confidence at the plate. Ohtani also admitted his left knee wasn’t at full strength after the operation, which caused him to alter his mechanics as a hitter.
The Angels have yet to announce a formal plan for Ohtani this season, but Maddon has talked about how they are going to be aggressive and rely on him to express how he’s feeling. In the past, Ohtani would start once a week and serve as DH roughly three-to-four times, but he could hit more this season. For now, Ohtani will focus on building up as a starter and then will start serving as DH more later in camp.
“He’s adhering to the pitching first and hitting second, but he’s getting everything done,” Maddon said. “We’ve been communicating and it’s empowering the player in this moment. It’s all about trust and communication.”