Ohtani lights up radar gun with fastest pitch of career

September 11th, 2022

HOUSTON -- Shohei Ohtani has become a spectacle to watch, not only because of his unprecedented play as a two-way star but the new records he sets with seemingly every outing. The latest accomplishment came via his velocity, as he threw the fastest pitch in his career in the Angels’ 6-1 win over the Astros on Saturday night at Minute Maid Park.

Ohtani, who typically touches the upper 90s with his fastball, emphatically kicked things up a notch when he threw a 101.4 mph fastball to strike out Kyle Tucker in the third inning. It was the fastest strikeout pitch by an Angels pitcher in the pitch-tracking era (since 2008). Ohtani allowed just one run on six hits with seven strikeouts over five innings, en route to his 12th win of the season.

“Just a lot more awesomeness from him,” Angels interim manager Phil Nevin said. “It was a pretty good outing for him, including that moment.”

Ohtani has been on an impressive run on both sides of the ball as of late. He entered Saturday batting .323 with nine homers and 21 RBIs in 27 games as a hitter since Aug. 9, while posting a 1.74 ERA with 27 strikeouts over that same span. During this recent stretch, he has reached major milestones, most notably becoming the first player in AL/NL history to hit 30 or more home runs while also winning 10 or more games in a season.

Despite this recent success, Ohtani, facing the AL West leaders, was immediately tested in the first inning. He gave up back-to-back singles and walked Yordan Alvarez to start the frame, but he escaped with just one run allowed on a fielding error by right fielder Taylor Ward on Yuli Gurriel’s single.

“It just felt like a couple of unlucky hits here and there,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “I just tried to block it out and make my pitches. I just told myself to trust myself and threw my pitches.”

Ohtani did exactly that, as he zoned in and relied on his newest pitch: the sinker. Since debuting the pitch on Aug. 15 against the Mariners, he has continued to incorporate it into his arsenal -- utilizing it 25 percent of the time on Saturday -- and it has led to good results.

“I was very satisfied with the command and movement on that pitch,” Ohtani said.

Ohtani’s ability to command his pitches led to him doing what he has done all season: strike out hitters. His seven punchouts on Saturday brought his total to 188 on the season, as he inches closer to becoming the first player in AL/NL history with 200 strikeouts as a pitcher and 30 home runs as a hitter.

The strikeout that punctuated Ohtani’s 24th start of the season was the 0-2 fastball to Tucker in the third inning. A pitch the two-way star knew felt good coming out of his hand dotted the strike zone, and he celebrated with an emphatic gesture as he walked off the mound.

“The pitch just felt right, and I am happy with the way it turned out,” Ohtani said.

Ohtani’s night came to an abrupt end while he tossed a few warmup pitches to begin the sixth inning. He called for the trainer and was lifted for Jimmy Herget due to a blister on his right index finger.

“He manages his body as well as anybody,” Nevin said. “It was about getting him out of there before it opens to not jeopardize his next start.”

The biggest question mark for Ohtani moving forward is if he will win the AL MVP for the second straight season. The debate has narrowed down to Ohtani versus the Yankees' Aaron Judge, but the reigning MVP is on track to have a better season than he did last year:

2021: Ohtani slashed .257/.372/.592 with 46 homers and 100 RBIs in 158 games. On the mound, he went 9-2 with a 3.18 ERA and 156 strikeouts in 130 1/3 innings. He also led the Majors with 9.1 WAR.

2022: Ohtani is slashing .265/.353/.531 with 33 homers and 86 RBIs in 134 games. On the mound, he has a 12-8 record with a 2.55 ERA and 188 strikeouts in 141 innings. He entered Saturday with a 7.9 WAR.

It will remain to be seen if he does end up winning the AL MVP, but he has certainly impressed with every new feat he has accomplished.

“He’s always going to be in the conversation,” said three-time MVP Mike Trout, who homered for a sixth straight game on Saturday. “What he is doing on both sides is truly special.”