Shohei Ohtani is taking the mound on Friday against the Arizona Diamondbacks for what will be his ninth start of the season. Through his first eight, the Los Angeles Angels starter has shown two completely different sides of himself. Kurt Suzuki, his personal catcher for seven of the eight, has also noticed the drastic switch.
In his first four starts, he was erratic. He threw the ball significantly harder — seeing his fastball sit around 96.8 mph and top out at 101 — but had an obvious lack of control. While he ERA was still incredible at 2.41 and he had 30 strikeouts in 18.2 innings, he also had 19 walks in that span. He didn’t pitch in the sixth inning in any of the four games.
Then, something changed between starts four and five. He saw his velocity decrease — with his fastball now sitting at 94.4 — which has helped him significantly decrease his walk totals. In his last four starts, where he pitched 23.2 innings, he has the same 30 strikeouts but only seven walks. He’s also finished the sixth inning three times and finished and the seventh inning once.
Suzuki discussed some of the things that have helped Ohtani cut down on walks and start throwing more strikes, something that has helped him to evolve as a pitcher, according to Jeff Fletcher of The O.C. Register:
“He’s a very smart guy,” Suzuki said. “I think he understands his body better than a lot of the guys I played with. He knows when he has to subtract and add. You see a couple times when he’ll pump a couple 98’s in there in a big situation when he needs it. But he knows if he throws strikes, he can still throw hard enough to get guys off his split, his breaking balls and all that kind of stuff.”
“I think he’s pacing himself,” Suzuki said.
From his very first start, it was clear Ohtani had the stuff to be an elite pitcher in Major League Baseball. However, he consistently struggled with command issues and walking batters. Now, even Suzuki is seeing a more poised and in control pitcher.
Hopefully, with each start moving forward, Ohtani can build on his newfound command to take the leap to being a true ace. He’s shown in the past he could have what it takes.
Griffin Canning showing improvements of his own
The Angels pitching staff has shown some real improvement in the last few weeks. Canning encapsulated that in a one-run performance over 6.2 innings to help the Angels complete a sweep of the Kansas City Royals. Things appear to be coming together in Anaheim, and it starts with drastically better starting pitching.