Anaheim, CA – Shohei Otani’s second pitch on opening day was a 98 mph fastball spotted on the edge of the inner corner to Jose Altov. By the end of the first half on Thursday night, the two-way Los Angeles Angels sensation had delivered seven strokes at a higher speed. Oftentimes in 2021, while feeling commanding after half a decade without a set throw, Ohtani would regress to those higher speeds, saving the bigger numbers in tighter situations late in the games.
Confidence in him shows early on how much he has changed on the hill in a year.
“Gradually he’s got better speedball control — and that’s what I think the big difference is,” Angels coach Joe Maddon said after his team’s season-opening 3-1 loss to the Houston Astros. “And I saw it again tonight — a lot of 97 and 99 games. In the past, the first part of the game was fewer numbers until he needed it. Right now, even when it’s not needed, he still does these things.”
Ohtani – limited, like all junior Angels players, to an 80-yard range due to short spring training – was once allowed to run four strokes in 4 rounds against one of the league’s most dangerous formations, with one walk and nine strokes. Three of those hits came against Altuve, who has scored three times in a game just three times in 11 previous league seasons.
Despite his shortened pitch number, Ohtani threw seven pitches at 99 mph, the third most in his career. The average speed on the four-stud fastball, which appeared to display a bit more cutting action, was 97.8 mph, more than two points higher than last year’s average. The effect of that degree significantly increased the effect of the slider, resulting in seven whiffs on nine flips.
Otani, who came out of his unanimous selection as MLS Player of the Year, started spring training talking about how strong he feels.
It may appear in a fast ball that can constantly get close to the three numbers.
“This is what I wish,” Otani said through his translator. “It’s going to be a long season so I don’t know how fatigue will affect that, but I’ll try to pick my points and throw hard.”
A 44,723 sold-out crowd thronged Angel Stadium to watch Ohtani begin to follow the most impressive season in baseball history, when he paired a 0.965 OPS with 46 home runs and 26 base steals as a hitter with a 3.18 ERA and 156 strokes in the innings of 130 marksmanship grade. By taking the ball at the top of the first and advancing into the bottom half of the inning, Ohtani became the first player in history to throw and face the first pitch of his team’s season.
The Angels’ attack struggled against the Astros’ left-footed Framber Valdez, who rolled 6 goalless hits and at one point retired 15 straight hitters. But they finally broke by two divisions in eighth, when David Fletcher plowed into the sinking streak past Jordan Alvarez’s dive in left field, and Brandon Marsh scored and brought the run to the plate. Came Otani, who fired a fly ball at 98 mph that initially excited the crowd but was eventually caught on the edge of the outside lawn.
“I thought she might have a chance to leave,” Ohtani said after a 0-for-4 night offensive. “I just got a little bit under it.”
Ohtani was removed as pitcher with a one-and-two hit in the fifth inning in part because Madonne wanted to use left-hander Aaron Loeb to attack left-handed Michael Brantley. Returning to the dugout, Madonne approached Otani to ask if he wanted to stay in the game and take advantage of a new rule that would allow him to continue hitting even after the throw was over.
Otani replied: Of course.
Otani said that by the end of the night he had almost forgotten he had pitched. He treated the final third of the match like he was the designated hitter – and nearly documented the score while doing so.
“Nothing is too fast for him,” Maddon said. “Nothing is too big for him.”