Concern Rises After Shohei Ohtani Struggles, Goes For MRI After Second Start
ANAHEIM—What began as a promising return for Shohei Ohtani instead became another dismal day for the Angels and their two-way star.
Ohtani walked five batters and failed to get through the second inning in his first home start in over two years, then was sent for an MRI after he reported discomfort in his right arm following the game. An Angels spokesman said the club does not have the results of the MRI and will announce them when they receive them. Ohtani left the game, a 6-5 loss to the Astros in 11 innings, prior to its end and was not made available for comment.
It was another blow to the 2018 Baseball America Rookie of the Year. Ohtani had Tommy John surgery following his rookie season and did not pitch all of 2019, though he continued to hit. He returned to the mound this season and struggled in the early going.
After walking eight batters in an intrasquad game, Ohtani faced six batters and didn’t record an out in his first start of the season in Oakland. He followed that with a home start against the Astros on Sunday and, for a brief moment, looked like he had returned to prime form in his second start post-surgery.
Ohtani set the Astros down in order in the first inning. His fastball sat 95-96 mph and his splitter generated swings and misses. He retired the all-star trio of George Springer, Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman on just eight pitches. In the words of his manager Joe Maddon, he was “outstanding.”
And then, it all fell apart. Ohtani walked five batters, including two with the bases loaded, in a 42-pitch second inning. He held his fastball velocity at 94-97 mph for most of the frame but could not find the strike zone.
He walked the bases loaded to open the inning, getting to a full count on Michael Brantley, Yuli Gurriel and Josh Reddick before walking all three of them. He tried his fastball, curveball, slider and splitter and couldn’t consistently find the strike zone with any of them.
“I think he has really good command, I just think he’s kind of being a little bit too careful off the edges,” Maddon said. “I’d like to see him get more early-count outs. There’s a lot of pitches to be conserved to be more in attack mode with the hitters and let them get themselves out. “
Ohtani looked like he would still get out of it. He recovered to strike out Kyle Tucker and Jack Mayfield with the bases loaded and, on a 3-2 pitch to Dustin Garneau, tucked a 94-mph fastball into the high inside corner of the strike zone.
But home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez missed the call and issued ball four to Garneau. Instead of an inning-ending strikeout, it was a bases-loaded walk to force a run home.
“If he gets that call, strike three right there, “ Maddon said, “he gets out of the inning at 30-some pitches and it could have been a different story.”
After that, Ohtani’s velocity suddenly and precipitously dropped. His next three fastballs were clocked at 89.6, 89.1 and 89.7 mph. On the final one, he walked George Springer for his fifth walk of the inning and second straight with the bases loaded, ending his afternoon after 1.2 innings.
Ohtani’s numbers after two starts are concerning enough. He has walked eight of the 16 batters he has faced this season. He has allowed seven runs in 1.2 innings. His average fastball velocity ticked up from 92.9 mph in Oakland to 94.4 mph against the Astros, but it’s still less than the 96.7 mph he averaged during the 2018 season.
But now, his health is the most immediate concern. Ohtani has not made it through a full season playing both ways since 2016 in Japan.
An ankle injury limited him to five starts in 2017, his final season in Japan, and required surgery after the season. He needed Tommy John surgery after the 2018 season and had season-ending left knee surgery in 2019, when he hit but didn’t pitch.
The 26-year-old Ohtani is a physical marvel, but with surgeries each of the last three years, the toll on his body has increasingly become a source of concern.
Now, the Angels will wait for the results of the MRI to see if their two-way star can continue on in 2020.