Shohei Ohtani’s velocity dips during Angels defeat, but he’s ‘not worried about any injuries’
Most of Shohei Ohtani’s tools were on display again Wednesday night.
But there was one big trait the Angels two-way star was missing throughout.
Playing both ways in the Angels’ 3-2 loss to the Cleveland Indians, Ohtani flashed his power with a hard lineout to center and showed off his speed by later bunting for a single.
On the mound, he got plenty of swings-and-misses, striking out five batters in a 4 ⅔-inning, two-run start. He had decent command too, issuing just two walks and finding the strike zone on 43 of 72 pitches.
But from the very beginning of the game, the usually hard-throwing right-hander failed to throw the ball very hard. And afterward, neither he nor manager Joe Maddon had much of an explanation why.
“It was just one of those days he didn’t have his normal stuff,” Maddon said.
Added Ohtani, through his interpreter: “My body was just feeling really heavy and sluggish.”
Ohtani’s average fastball velocity was just 91.3 mph on Wednesday, a significant drop from his season average of 96.6 mph. Normally capable of reaching triple digits, Ohtani’s hardest pitch was only 95.3 mph. Nine times, his four-seamer failed to even crack 90 mph.
“I wasn’t feeling the fastball at all today,” Ohtani said.
The one thing Ohtani and Maddon did emphasize: They don’t believe Ohtani is battling any injury.
“There’s nothing wrong with him,” Maddon said, adding: “It’s not mechanical and it wasn’t physical. It was just how he was feeling tonight.”
Echoed Ohtani: “I’m not worried about any injuries. I was able to stay in there and get my at-bats and play in the field.”
Velocity drops have preceded injuries for Ohtani in the past.
After not pitching for almost three months in the second half of 2018 because of a sprain to his ulnar collateral ligament, Ohtani tried to make a return that September. Less than three innings into his first game back, however, he was removed after his fastball velocity quickly tailed off. He didn’t pitch again that season, with doctors later determining that he needed Tommy John surgery.
Last season, Ohtani attempted to return to pitching duties again, but lacked velocity – along with consistency and command – in each of his first two starts before being shut down for the rest of the season as a pitcher because of strain to the flexor pronator mass near his right elbow.
But Maddon insisted Wednesday was different. He noted that Ohtani’s velocity gradually improved as the game went on, and said neither the coaching nor training staff noticed “any other indicators, other than the gun on the scoreboard.”
“Coaches and trainers are looking in the face for any wincing, is he holding back? Is there pain?” Maddon added. “And we couldn’t see anything different between him throwing 97 or whatever he was doing today … He came into the dugout, was very confident, very upbeat.”
San Diego Padres pitcher Yu Darvish went to Twitter on Wednesday night to propose one theory for Ohtani’s velocity dropoff, sharing that he sometimes experienced the same thing in the years after his own Tommy John surgery.
Maddon also didn’t rule out the idea that Ohtani’s workload this year could have been a factor. Wednesday marked the 42nd straight game Ohtani has played to begin the season. He’s been a starter in the lineup or on the mound (and, on four occasions, both) in all but one.
Asked if he needs more days off, Ohtani responded, “it’s hard to say at this point.” Maddon echoed that sentiment, saying he and Ohtani – who now has a 2.37 ERA to go along with an MLB-best 14 home runs – would continue to have open dialogue about his usage as they have all season.
“It could just be a one-off,” Maddon said. “I really try not to overreact.”
Even without overpowering pitch speeds, however, Ohtani provided more all-around productivity Wednesday.
While he said he didn’t “give myself a high rating” for his performance, he limited Cleveland’s damage to a ground ball RBI double from Franmil Reyes in the first and a solo home run by Jake Bauers in the fifth.
Without his four-seamer, Ohtani found success with his cutter, a pitch he developed this spring but had previously used sparingly before throwing it 23 times Wednesday. He still induced whiffs on more than a third of the Indians’ swings.
And after his pitching outing was done with two outs in the fifth, he was shifted to right field for the second time this season in order to get an extra at-bat at the plate, collecting his lone hit of the game on a bunt single in the sixth before later getting thrown out trying to steal second.
“He played a pretty complete game of baseball again,” Maddon said. “It’s not going to be perfect every night. It’s not always going to be an oil painting. I’m really impressed by everything he did.”
Following the rubber match defeat, Maddon had other, bigger frustrations.
The Angels (18-24) entered the fifth inning with a 2-1 lead Wednesday thanks to a third-inning RBI double from José Iglesias and a go-ahead solo home run by Jared Walsh in the fourth, but then watched another series slip away.
After Cleveland (23-18) scored the go-ahead run in the sixth, when Josh Naylor’s RBI single grazed off reliever Tony Watson and snuck through the infield, the Angels struggled to mount a rally.
They were retired in four at-bats or less in each of the final five innings and squandered their best opportunity for a comeback in the eighth, when catcher Kurt Suzuki was forced out at second on a throw from right field by Naylor after waiting to see if a line drive would fall.
There were encouraging signs from the bullpen, which gave up just the one run in 5 ⅓ innings of work, and the defense, including an impressive double-play from first baseman Jared Walsh in the fifth and left fielder Justin Upton throwing out a runner at the plate in the seventh.
But it still wasn’t enough to prevent the Angels from losing their eighth series out of 14 this season and their 12th game in the past 17.
“We just got to figure out how to get in the winning ledger,” Maddon said. “So many close games like this. It’s really cultural, we’ve got to get over the top and really start believing that we can do those kinds of things ... I totally believe we’re going to get there. It’s frustrating, I get it. But we’re going to keep banging on the door until it opens up.”
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