Another first for Ohtani in 10-strikeout gem

June 5th, 2021

ANAHEIM -- Two-way sensation turned in yet another strong outing against the Mariners on Friday night, tying a season-high with 10 strikeouts and not walking a batter for the first time in 20 career starts.

Ohtani threw six solid innings, allowing two runs on four hits in a thrilling 3-2 win at Angel Stadium that also featured an amazing six-out save from closer , who inherited a bases-loaded jam in the eighth.

Ohtani picked up the win and improved to 2-0 with a 2.76 ERA and 60 strikeouts, 26 walks and four homers allowed in 42 1/3 innings. It was the fourth time that Ohtani struck out at least 10 batters in his career.

“He's full of confidence and knows where his release point is,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “I also believe the fastball command is getting better and it makes his splitter and cutter even better because you have to honor his fastball. It was a great one to build off of and there's no reason to believe he can't build on that."

Ohtani's night started out inauspiciously, as he served up a leadoff homer to J.P. Crawford on the second pitch of the night on a 91.9 mph fastball. But fortunately for the Angels and Ohtani, it wasn’t a sign of things to come, as he bounced back to retire the next six batters, including five by strikeout. His fastball velocity also improved, averaging 94.5 mph and topping out at 97.3 mph.

“I think Crawford surprised him a little bit when he jumped on that fastball,” Maddon said. “It was only 91 [mph], but then after that he pretty much amped it up.”

Ohtani ran into some trouble in the third, giving up a double to Taylor Trammell to open the inning. After a bunt from Donovan Walton, Crawford followed with a sacrifice fly to left to give the Mariners an early 2-0 lead. But Ohtani got out of a similar jam in the fourth following a one-out double from Ty France, striking out Jake Fraley and Jarred Kelenic to get out of the inning.

“I didn't really change much after that home run,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “Obviously, it got too much of the plate. I've been getting hit when I leave it over the plate and I gave up a couple of doubles. I need to make good pitches in those spots."

He continued to settle down from there, retiring six of the final seven batters he faced, including three by strikeout. His splitter was particularly nasty, as Mariners hitters swung at it nine times and only connected once, coming on Crawford's sacrifice fly in the third. He also registered four swings-and-misses with his fastball and three with his cutter.

"He’s got one of the special pitches in our game, the Ohtani split-finger, it’s about as good as it gets," Mariners manager Scott Servais said. "When he’s commanding it like he was tonight, it’s a real challenge. It’s as good a pitch as you’re gonna see in the league."

But Maddon decided to go to the bullpen early, despite Ohtani having only thrown 76 pitches. Five of the next six batters due up for Seattle were lefties, so left-handed reliever Tony Watson replaced Ohtani. Watson retired all three batters he faced before handing it over to Mike Mayers in the eighth and Maddon explained he thought Ohtani looked tired in the sixth.

“I thought he was a little bit fatigued,” Maddon said. “I thought he was working pretty hard at it. In his last inning, he went to other pitches. I think he threw one 95 mph fastball. But he threw up some nasty splitters and cutters. He's creative. The guy creates. He throws based on what he's feeling and what he's seeing.”

Ohtani agreed with Maddon’s assertion and pointed out he struggled in the seventh in his last start, when he couldn’t record an out and two runs scored in the inning in a loss to Oakland.

“My velo was dipping a little bit, the sharpness on my breaking ball wasn't there, so I think it was good timing,” said Ohtani, who also went 0-for-2 with a walk at the plate. “He saw that I was fatigued and especially how my last start went when I couldn't get any outs in the seventh inning. I think I need to show Joe I can get through seven innings and maybe next he'll let me go out."

Mayers, though, loaded the bases with nobody out and Iglesias was brought in to undo the mess. Incredibly, Iglesias was able to get out of it unscathed, getting a popup and two strikeouts to end the inning. Iglesias also threw a scoreless ninth to record his 10th save and his fifth career six-out save.

"It was definitely one of the most complicated and exciting outings I've had in my career,” Iglesias said through an interpreter. “It's a situation where you tell yourself you have to keep your focus and do your job."