Two-way star Shohei Ohtani pitched with noticeably reduced velocity in his start against the Indians on Wednesday, but it didn't seem to hinder his performance much, as he threw 4 2/3 solid innings in a no-decision and said after his start that he’s not injured.
Ohtani's fastball averaged 91.3 mph, which was down roughly five mph from his season average, while his splitter averaged 82.7 mph, which was down nearly seven mph from his season average. But he did hit 95 mph on back-to-back fastballs in the fourth, showing he had something in the tank. Despite the velocity dip, Ohtani gave up two runs on five hits and two walks with five strikeouts in a 3-2 loss in the series finale at Angel Stadium.
"I'm not worried about any injuries," Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. "I was able to stay in the game and get my at-bats and play the field. I think my body was just feeling really heavy and sluggish."
Angels manager Joe Maddon noticed the downtick in velocity right away and didn’t have any answers as to why Ohtani had an off night with his fastball.
"He just didn't have it,” Maddon said. “He just wasn't feeling his fastball. He pitched primarily with sliders, cutters and splitters. It was just one of those days where he didn't have his normal stuff. But despite it, he kept us in the game pretty well."
He was removed as a pitcher with two outs in the fifth after walking Cesar Hernandez on his 72th pitch of the night. Ohtani, though, moved to right field to keep his bat in the lineup, as he was due up fourth in the bottom of the inning. Ohtani didn’t get a chance to hit in the fifth, so he played right field again in the sixth. It marked the second straight start that Ohtani saw action in the outfield to remain in the lineup but the first time he played more than one inning in the outfield. He didn’t have any balls hit his way.
"I wanted to explain to Shohei [that] I wanted him out there to get one more at-bat,” Maddon said. “It's a little bit complicated because you want one more at-bat from him but we have a short bench."
Ohtani dropped down a bunt single with the shift on to open the sixth, and went 1-for-3 at the plate, but was caught stealing for the third time this season for the first out of the inning. Ohtani was then removed from the game with Juan Lagares replacing him and going to center field and Justin Upton moving back to left field. It worked out with Upton throwing out Amed Rosario at home to end the seventh inning.
Ohtani’s diminished velocity was evident early but he still struck out the first two batters he faced. But he gave up a single to José Ramírez on a 3-2 splitter -- just the second hit he’s allowed all season on that pitch -- and Ramírez promptly stole second and scored on an RBI double from Franmil Reyes that sneaked down the left-field line.
He settled down after that, striking out two more batters in the second and escaping a jam in the fourth when Reyes doubled again with one out. But he was greeted by a solo homer from Jake Bauers on a 91 mph fastball to lead off the fifth and then gave up a single to Amed Rosario. Jared Walsh, who homered in the fourth to tie the game, started a 3-6-3 double play to help Ohtani but he was removed after his walk to Hernandez.
“After he had thrown 65-70 pitches, we just wanted a different direction,” Maddon said. “We got to take care of this young man. We got to make sure everything works well for the next several years. So for one game in May, I'm not going to jeopardize that by keeping him out there too long.”
Lefty Tony Watson came in and got out of the inning unscathed but gave up the go-ahead run in the sixth on an RBI single from Josh Naylor that hit off Watson and went into left field.
With his outing, Ohtani has a 2.37 ERA with 45 strikeouts, 22 walks and three homers allowed in 30 1/3 innings over six starts this season. He also was in the lineup on the same day of his start for the fourth time this year after never previously doing it in the Majors before this season. He’s played in every game this season but wouldn’t say after the game that he wanted some rest.
"It's hard to say at this point,” Ohtani said. “I wish I could've gone 1-2 more innings to help out the bullpen. But I wasn't able to do that."
In his first at-bat, he hit a line drive right at third baseman Ramírez and later smacked a rocket to center in the third but almost directly to center fielder Harold Ramirez. It had an exit velocity of 110.1 mph. Ohtani is hitting .272/.324/.627 with a Major League-leading 14 homers in 40 games this year.
“He hit the ball really well to center field,” Maddon said. “That was a big moment. And then how about him dropping down the bunt. He played a pretty complete game of baseball again. It's not going to be perfect every night, but I was impressed by everything he did tonight."