Ohtani fans 12, sets club record vs. Dodgers

June 22nd, 2023

ANAHEIM -- It was at his best on the mound in his first career start against the rival Dodgers on Wednesday night, striking out 12 and allowing just one run over seven strong innings.

But there was just one problem: It wasn’t enough, with the Angels being shut out for a second straight night in a 2-0 loss at Angel Stadium. It marked their eighth straight loss to the Dodgers dating back to 2021, which is tied for their longest such losing streak in the Freeway Series.

Ohtani, however, became the first Angels pitcher with 12 strikeouts against the Dodgers, surpassing Garrett Richards’ 11 on Sept. 9, 2015. It also marked Ohtani’s sixth career start with at least 12 punchouts and his second this season. He’s turned it around with two straight solid starts against the Rangers and Dodgers and has a 3.00 ERA over his last six outings after a rough patch from late April to mid-May, in which he posted a 6.12 ERA over a span of four starts.

“I definitely felt way better this time, it was the most comfortable I’ve felt on the mound all year,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “The key is to continue how I felt today. Of course, it’s hard and there are days in between, but I need to stay focused and do what I did again.”

Ohtani, who has played at an MVP-caliber level yet again this season and could be named an All-Star for the third time in his career as soon as Thursday, was masterful, scattering five hits and two walks, but it was an 0-1 cutter to Freddie Freeman in the fourth that he’d like to have back. Freeman connected on it for a go-ahead solo homer that proved to be the difference. It was the 12th homer Ohtani has surrendered in 15 starts this season.

“Ideally, I would have liked it a little lower to try to get that swing and miss,” Ohtani said. “But if I leave it up like that to a great hitter, that's what happens.”

Otherwise, Ohtani was electric and, despite his high strikeout total, efficient. He made it through seven frames for the fifth time this year and the first time since May 15.

“He was awesome,” Angels manager Phil Nevin said. “I thought he threw a terrific game. Even the pitch that Freddie hit out, Freddie, he kind of leans out. He's smart and he kind of leaned out over there and got that backdoor cutter and was able to hit it out to left-center field. That’s why he’s a great player. But to go through the top of the order the way that Shohei did, it was impressive, overall.”

Ohtani threw 101 pitches and relied heavily on his four-seam fastball, which he threw 50 times and averaged 96.8 mph. He also threw his cutter more often than usual (29 times, up from his 14 percent season average). But his pitch mix was effective, as he registered 20 swings and misses -- eight with the fastball, six with his cutter, five with his sweeper and one with his splitter.

“We had a game plan coming in and each batter has their own tendencies, so I look at that, for sure,” Ohtani said. “But I just felt comfortable on the mound and I threw my fastball more.”

The Angels fell to 10-5 in Ohtani's starts this season, while he dropped to 6-3 with a 3.13 ERA and 117 strikeouts in 89 innings. Only Spencer Strider (136) and Kevin Gausman (127) have recorded more strikeouts than Ohtani, who also leads the Majors with 24 homers and is tied for the MLB lead with 58 RBIs in 74 games.

Ohtani went 0-for-3 with a walk at the plate in the series finale, as the Angels registered only two hits against seven Dodgers relievers in a bullpen game. Luis Rengifo picked up both hits with a double in the third and a single in the fifth. But Rengifo was also thrown out at the plate trying to tag up on Mickey Moniak’s fly ball to left field to end the third, marking the second straight day the Angels had a runner thrown out at the plate in a pivotal situation.

“They pitched us well,” Nevin said. “When you have a bullpen game against another team, it’s hard to score with a different pitcher out there each time. It’s just facts. We had some chances tonight and got some matchups we liked, but it just didn’t work out.”