Is Ohtani's 100 mph velo back?

June 17th, 2021

is one of the most fun players in baseball not just because he pitches and hits at the same time, but because he pitches 100-plus mph fastballs and hits 450-foot monster home runs in the same games.

So when the "100 mph fastball" part went missing a month ago, it really stood out. Ohtani's fastball velocity dropped suddenly by 5 mph in mid-May, from his start on May 11 to the next on May 19. That's a big deal for any pitcher, and maybe even more so for someone like Ohtani, whose ability to light up the radar gun is a big part of why he wows us as baseball fans.

But here's what you might not have realized, because gradual change doesn't catch the eye so easily. Ohtani has quietly spent his last three starts building his fastball velocity back to its normal elite level. His four-seamer is humming in the upper 90s again for the first time in a month. Entering his start Thursday against the Tigers at Angel Stadium -- which fans can watch for free on YouTube -- the velo trend is: Up.

So tune in for first pitch at 9:38 p.m. ET … and be on the lookout for 100 mph Sho. He just might show up.

Ohtani's fastball velo through 2021

April 4 through May 11: 96.6 mph avg. | 101.1 mph max

May 19: 91.3 mph avg. | 95.3 mph max
May 28: 94.0 mph avg. | 97.9 mph max
June 4: 94.5 mph avg. | 97.3 mph max
June 11: 95.2 mph avg. | 99.6 mph max

June 17: ???

Ohtani's average fastball velocity has risen every game since the initial dip. His max velo jumped by 2-plus mph from his "slow" start to the next start, and by another 2-plus mph from his June 4 start into his most recent start.

In that last outing, he pushed right up to the edge of true 100-plus mph heat, the mark he hit nine times in his first start of the season.

Pitching out of a jam in Arizona, Ohtani dialed up his fastball to 99.6 mph against Asdrúbal Cabrera -- his fastest pitch since May 5 against the Rays -- and eventually blew Cabrera away with a 98.5 mph fastball -- his fastest strikeout pitch since that same game.

In other words: when Ohtani needs an extra gear … he still has it.

Ohtani also struck out Carson Kelly at 97.6 mph, and got additional swings and misses at 97.9 mph, 98.2 mph and 98.3 mph. In fact, Ohtani's total of seven swings and misses on his four-seamer last start was his highest in any game this season. Ohtani gets most of his swinging strikes on his splitter, so you like to see his four-seamer being a swing-and-miss pitch, too.

Entering Thursday's homestand opener in Anaheim, the fastball looks like it just has more juice. Against the D-backs, Ohtani threw 16 fastballs 97 mph or faster and eight fastballs 98 mph or faster; both were his most in a game since May 11.

Ohtani's 97+ mph fastballs by game in 2021
April 4: 38
April 20: 10
April 26: 18
May 5: 9
May 11: 19

May 19: 0
May 28: 2
June 4: 1

June 11: 16

June 17: ???

Big heat from Ohtani does more than just look good on the scoreboard. It only helps the one-two punch with the pitch that's his main attraction, his splitter.

Think about it this way: Ohtani's fastball-splitter combo is so nasty because they both come straight at a hitter, but then the fastball carries through the zone and the splitter drops off the table. When Ohtani is throwing harder, hitters have even less time to react to both pitches, identify which one is coming and decide whether to swing before it's too late. More velocity makes the combo even nastier.

It's not that Ohtani can't be effective without high-90s or triple-digit velocity. He can, and his continued solid results recently show it. But those 98s, 99s and 100s make him even better and more electric as a two-way superstar -- and if he keeps things going in the same direction in Thursday's start, you won't want to miss it.