His head was still. His hands were quiet. His body was upright, sturdy and balanced. His leg kick and toe tap were on time.
All the required components of a lethal Shohei Ohtani swing came together in perfect harmony in an Aug. 23 game at Oakland, the Angels slugger driving a Frankie Montas fastball 439 feet to left-center field for a three-run homer.
“My timing has been off,” the left-handed-hitting Ohtani said through an interpreter that day, but on the homer, “it all started to come together.”
Then it all fell apart. Ohtani has been unable to repeat that swing consistently, and his mechanics are so out of whack that he hit .204 (10 for 49) with a .572 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, no homers and six RBIs in his next 16 games.
Ohtani did not start Wednesday night’s 9-6 loss to Arizona, the fourth straight game he was not in the lineup, though opposing left-handers started three of the games. With Diamondbacks left-hander Alex Young pitching Thursday, Ohtani will probably be on the bench again.
“Quite frankly, he's not swinging the bat well, and you could actually get even worse by facing some guys now that would make it even more difficult for him,” manager Joe Maddon said. “So, back off, let him regroup a little bit.”
Ohtani has fallen into a bad habit of pulling off toward the first-base line as he swings against left-handers, especially on breaking balls, making it difficult to hit sliders near the plate and nearly impossible to hit those that break outside.
But he’s also been bailing out against some right-handers, the problem getting so bad Maddon recently said, “We need him to put his seatbelt on.” With the Angels still not mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, Maddon feels obligated to play his best lineups.
“Obviously, he's coming off the ball a little bit, or a lot, on occasion,” Maddon said. “If this is a normal April-May, he's playing and working through it. We don’t have the luxury of time now to permit that to happen. But he's gonna get it. He'll figure it out and start tearing it up.”
Ohtani entered Wednesday with a .189 average, .635 OPS, five homers, six doubles and 20 RBIs in 37 games, a steep drop from 2019, when he hit .286 with an .848 OPS, 18 homers, 20 doubles and 62 RBIs in 106 games.
Ohtani thrived against left-handers last season, batting .282 with a .794 OPS, three homers and 13 RBIs, but he’s been extremely vulnerable to them this season, batting .154 (six for 39) with a .503 OPS, no homers and one RBI. His overall struggles have been so extreme, Maddon didn’t start Ohtani against three right-handers this month.
“I’m just trying to grind and be better every day,” Ohtani said. “When I’m going well, I don’t think it matters, right or left. When I’m seeing the ball well, I take good swings either way.”
If Ohtani has been consumed by his struggles, it hasn’t showed.
“I don’t sense frustration,” Maddon said. “Of course, he’s got to be internally frustrated. For whatever reason, there are some really good players this year experiencing this same kind of offensive trauma, and they’ll work through it.”
Three takeaways on the Angels
- After a one-two-three first, Dylan Bundy gave up four earned runs in a 37-pitch second, twice as many earned runs as he gave up in any of his four previous starts. The 22/3-inning, six-run, six-hit game was Bundy’s worst of the season.
- Max Stassi, Jared Walsh and Justin Upton homered for the Angels, Stassi crushing a 444-foot two-run shot to left center in the second, Walsh hitting a solo shot to left center in the fifth, his sixth homer in seven games, and Upton lining a solo shot to left in the sixth.
- Patrick Sandoval, recalled from the alternate training site Wednesday, retired nine of 10 batters from the fourth through sixth inning before giving up a two-run homer to Kole Calhoun and a solo homer to David Peralta in the seventh for a 9-4 Arizona lead. Mike Trout’s RBI double and Anthony Rendon’s RBI groundout in the bottom of the seventh made it 9-6.