Shohei Ohtani proved that the injury that will keep him from pitching in 2020 doesn’t affect his hitting, as he connected on a solo homer in his first at-bat since being diagnosed with a strain of the flexor pronator mass in his right forearm.
Ohtani backed a complete game from Dylan Bundy and helped spark the Angels to a 6-1 win over the Mariners in the series finale on Thursday afternoon at T-Mobile Park. Bundy’s complete game was the club’s first since June 5, 2018.
Ohtani smacked an opposite-field homer off Mariners right-hander Taijuan Walker in the second inning to give the Angels an early 1-0 lead. It was the third homer of the season for Ohtani, who won’t pitch again this season but will serve as the club’s regular designated hitter.
“I’ll tell you what I saw today -- the best swing out of him that I’ve seen in person,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s on the verge right now. Liked a lot of what I saw today. He was very focused, very convicted in what he was doing. Those were the most forceful swings I’ve seen him take all year.”
Ohtani described his injury as “inflammation in his elbow” on Wednesday and said he doesn’t feel it when he’s hitting. His homer had an exit velocity of 102 mph and went a projected 351 feet to left field, per Statcast.
It was reminiscent of the night Ohtani was told he would need Tommy John surgery -- Sept. 5, 2018 -- and he responded by hitting two homers as a DH.
Ohtani had some positive indicators at the plate heading into Thursday. He ranks third in the Majors in barrels per plate appearances, per Statcast, indicating he's essentially hitting the ball at the optimal launch angle and exit velocity at the third-best rate in baseball. His average launch angle is also back to 12 degrees -- like his rookie year in 2018 -- after it dipped to 6.8 last season.
Ohtani also drew a walk as part of a three-run fourth inning that saw the Angels load the bases with nobody out. Tommy La Stella brought home a run on an RBI single, Justin Upton was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded and Max Stassi hit a sacrifice fly to right to provide the scoring. Stassi also clubbed his fourth homer of the year in the eighth, a two-run shot off reliever Nestor Cortes.
It was plenty of offense for Bundy, who continued to impress with the Angels after being acquired in an offseason trade with the Orioles. Bundy went the distance, allowing one run on four hits with 10 strikeouts.
In three starts, Bundy has a 2.08 ERA and 25 strikeouts in a Major League-leading 21 2/3 innings (tied with Shane Bieber). He became the first Angels starter this season to go at least eight innings. (The club had only one start of at least eight innings in 2019.) It was his third career complete game and his first since May 24, 2018.
"It's always fun to be able to start and then end the game, as well,” Bundy said. “You don't always know what to do as a starting pitcher, it seems like, after you get that last out. I was really wanting to get that last out, and you know it happened to work out that way today."
Maddon said it was never in doubt that Bundy was going to finish the game, as he had good command of all his pitches and didn’t lose velocity. Of Bundy's 107 pitches, he threw just 42 fastballs compared with 25 sliders, 25 changeups and 15 curveballs. He got a total of 16 swings-and-misses, including seven with the fastball, five with the slider and four with the change.
“He had it written all over him all day,” Maddon said. “The curve was so good, the changeup was so good, the fastball held steady at 91 with good carry to it. His pitchability is so high.
"That’s a perfect example of how a starting pitcher can go more deeply into games, when he can do different things to the lineup as they come through for different at-bats. He just has that kind of repertoire. It’s not just brute force. Beautiful display of pitching, really well done on his part.”
Mariners DH Daniel Vogelbach brought home the only run against Bundy with a homer in the fourth on a changeup over the plate, but even he had to tip his cap to the six-year veteran.
“He could throw all his pitches for strikes,” Vogelbach said. “He was strike one a ton all day. So give him credit. He threw the ball well.”