ANAHEIM, California – The second pitch Shhei Ohtani A 98 mph fastball was thrown on opening day and was sighted on the far edge of the inside corner Jose Altuve. By the end of the first inning on Thursday night, the Angels from Los Angeles‘ Two-way sensation threw seven pitches at a higher speed. Often in 2021, when Ohtani felt in command after a half-decade without consistent pitching, he would transition to those higher speeds and save the bigger numbers for tighter situations late in games.
Trusting him early shows how much has changed for him on the hill in one year.
“He’s just gradually gotten better at his fastball — that’s the big difference I think,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said after his team’s 3-1 loss to the season opener Houston Astros. “And you saw it again tonight – lots of ’97s and ’99s. In the past, the early part of the game consisted of lower numbers until needed. For now, he still does those things even when it’s not necessary. “
Ohtani — restricted to the 80-pitch range like all Angels starters due to the truncated spring practice — allowed a four-hit run in 4⅔ innings against one of the most dangerous lineups in the league with one walk and nine strikeouts. Three of those strikeouts came against Altuve, who had struck just three times in a game in the previous 11 major league seasons.
Despite the reduced pitch count, Ohtani threw seven 99-mile pitches, the third most in his career. Average speed on his four-seam fastball, which appeared to be a bit more cutting, was 97.8 mph, more than two ticks faster than last year’s average. The effect of that pitch played up his slider noticeably, producing seven puffs on nine sweeps.
Ohtani, who was unanimously voted the American League’s Most Valuable Player, started spring training and spoke about how much stronger he feels.
Perhaps it shows in a fastball that can consistently approach three digits.
“I hope so,” Ohtani said through his interpreter. “It’s going to be a long season so I don’t know how fatigue will affect that but I’ll try to find my spots and throw hard.”
A sell-out crowd of 44,723 packed Angel Stadium to see Ohtani begin what would be arguably the most impressive season in baseball history as he hit a .965 OPS with 46 home runs and 26 stolen bases as a hitter with a 3, 18 ERA tied and 156 strikeouts in 130⅓ innings as a pitcher. By taking the ball in the top of the first inning and leading in the bottom half of the inning, Ohtani became the first player in history to both pitch and make his team’s first pitch of the season.
The Angels’ offense battled Astro’s lefty Framber Valdez, who turned 6⅔ scoreless innings and retired 15 straight batters at one point. But they eventually broke through with two outs in the eighth time David Fletcher‘s Sinking Line Drive scurried past a dive Jordan Alvarez in left field, shot on goal Brandon March and bringing the binding run to the disk. Ohtani came up who fired a 98-mile fly ball that initially excited the crowd but was eventually caught at the edge of the outfield grass.
“I thought there might be a chance to go,” Ohtani said after a 0-for-4 night on offense. “I just went down a bit.”
Ohtani was removed as a pitcher with an on and two outs in the fifth, in part because Maddon wanted to use lefty relief Aaron Wolf to attack the left-hander Michael Brantley. Returning to the dugout, Maddon approached Ohtani to ask him if he wanted to stay in the game and take advantage of a new rule that allows him to continue batting after the pitch.
Ohtani’s response: “Of course.”
By the end of the night, Ohtani said he almost forgot he’d pitched. He handled the last third of the game like he was the designated batsman – and almost equalized in the process.
“Nothing is too fast for him,” said Maddon. “Nothing is too big for him.”