As Shohei Ohtani continues to navigate one of the most high-pressure rookie seasons in modern baseball, his response to the first stumbling block of his MLB career represents an important step. That was on tap Tuesday when Ohtani took the mound against the Astros.
Ohtani left last week’s start against the Red Sox after just two innings due to a blister, though he wasn’t quite ace-level before that, allowing three runs and striking out only 1 of 12 batters. Facing the defending champions, Ohtani was still erratic, but brought the heat and the strikeouts.
The 23-year-old struck out seven in 5.1 innings and hit 101 mph in the fifth inning according to Baseball Savant, the highest mark of his young career. However, Ohtani didn’t just a personal best for himself. He set the high mark for every starter in MLB this season, according to MLB.com’s Statcast department.
Shohei Ohtani got a swing-and-miss from Josh Reddick on a 100.6 mph fastball. That's the fastest pitch thrown by any starting pitcher in MLB this season. It's the fastest swing-and-miss pitch by a starting pitcher since June of 2016. #Angels
— David Adler (@_dadler) April 25, 2018
It wasn’t all positive for Ohtani on Tuesday, as the Astros eventually wore him down. Ohtani allowed a homer to Derek Fisher in the fifth inning and walked Yuli Gurriel to open the sixth inning, then could only watch as Brian McCann brought him in with a two-run homer off reliever Jose Alvarez. All told, Ohtani threw a career-high 98 pitches, walked a career-high five batters and allowed a career-high four earned runs.
Ohtani’s ERA now sits at 4.43, but it’s important to note that he is still only 23 years old and that he has exclusively seen quality offenses as a pitcher. Entering Tuesday, the three teams Ohtani has faced in his four starts–Boston, Houston and Oakland (twice)– all ranked in the top 5 in the Majors in runs scored. Also, just a reminder, Ohtani has hit .333/.378/.619 in his first 45 career plate appearances.
Ohtani’s stats might be better if he faced weaker competition, but, so far, he is demonstrating the potential on both sides of the ball that made him the talk of baseball before he even stepped on an MLB field.
Shohei Ohtani has now struck out the reigning MVP (Jose Altuve) and homered off the reigning Cy Young (Corey Kluber).
Neither of those things are easy to do.
— Jeff Fletcher (@JeffFletcherOCR) April 25, 2018
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