Ohtani sets new record, but he's still aiming higher

Tenth straight start of 2 or fewer runs passes Nolan, though two-way star focused on walks

April 12th, 2023

ANAHEIM -- With his dizzying arsenal of 100 mph fastballs, sweeping sliders, darting cutters and disappearing splitters among his seven pitches, it’s no surprise two-way superstar has been nearly unhittable early this season.

Ohtani turned in his third straight dominant start on Tuesday, as he held the Nationals to just one hit over seven scoreless innings in a 2-0 win. And he again did it despite not having his best control early this season, as he walked five and hit a batter, but struck out six and pitched his way out of a couple of jams.

Ohtani improved to 2-0 with a 0.47 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 19 innings through three starts this season, his last before becoming a free agent. But Ohtani is far from satisfied, as he pointed to his 12 walks issued this season.

"If you look at the results on paper, it looks great, but I really haven’t had too many 1-2-3 innings,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “I feel like the only issue right now is the walks. It's kind of weird, because I felt really good in the bullpen this time around so I didn’t think I would give up as much as I did.”

But even with his walks, Ohtani set an Angels franchise record by allowing two or fewer runs in his tenth consecutive start -- passing the previous mark set by Nolan Ryan in 1972-73. And by going 1-for-4 at the plate, Ohtani is batting .300/.404/.575 with three homers, two doubles and eight RBIs in 11 games.

To get a deeper look at his dominance as a pitcher, batters are hitting .100 (6-for-60) against him this year with just two extra-base hits -- a pair of doubles and no homers. His .979 OPS as a hitter is .566 points higher than his .413 OPS allowed.

He's also reached base safely in all 11 games this season and 34 straight going back to last year, which is tied for the sixth longest such streak in club history.

The lone hit Ohtani allowed on Tuesday came with two outs in the fourth inning and likely would’ve been caught by first baseman Jake Lamb if he wasn’t holding a runner at first base. But CJ Abrams’ line drive got by Lamb and down the right-field line for a double. Ohtani, though, recovered by getting Michael Chavis to ground out to short to end the inning.

Ohtani, the AL MVP in 2021 and runner-up last season, had no-hit stuff from the beginning but walked three of the first six batters he faced, marking his third straight start with at least three walks allowed. But he again leaned heavily on his sweeping slider, which has already become baseball’s best sweeper.

Of his 92 pitches, Ohtani threw his sweeper 51 times and registered five swings and misses with it. He threw seven different pitches in the game -- his sweeper, four-seamer, sinker, cutter, slider, splitter and curveball -- which kept Washington's hitters off-balance.

“He’s added some shapes to his pitches,” said manager Phil Nevin. “The adjustments he’s making in-game and between starts, it’s what the great pitchers do. He’s obviously one of those guys, and is always striving to be better. He threw some pitches tonight we haven’t seen.”

Nevin explained that he noticed Ohtani changing the speeds and movement of his fastball and slider this outing compared to others. Catcher Logan O’Hoppe said it’s something Ohtani has been tinkering with in recent outings, especially by varying the shape of his sliders/cutters.

“He was messing with the slider a little bit,” said O’Hoppe, who hit his team-leading fourth homer of the year in the sixth inning. “It’s one of the things he’s been working on. It had a little bit more depth to it, and I thought it was great. His ability to make adjustments on pitches in the middle of an outing is what impresses me the most.”

Ohtani was removed after the seventh, as he threw 111 pitches in his previous start against the Mariners. He'll be held out of the lineup on Wednesday to give him a breather. His next outing on the mound will be a challenging one, as he’s set to start against the Red Sox on Boston Marathon day on Monday, with the game starting at 11 a.m. ET/8 a.m. PT.

“He’s had a big workload early this offseason,” Nevin said. “We’re going to give him tomorrow off. And his next outing is really at 8 a.m. West Coast time. So it’ll be good for him to get him off his feet.”