For a moment last week, it appeared as though Shohei Ohtani would not pitch for the Los Angeles Angels again in 2021. General soreness caused Joe Maddon to scratch him from a start on Friday against the Oakland Athletics, and said it was possible he would be shut down as a pitcher.
Whatever issues caused this decision went away very quickly. Ohtani was back on the mound just two days later on Sunday. In that game, Ohtani looked as healthy as ever, allowing two runs on five hits and three walks, striking out 10 over 8.0 innings of work.
For a player who was discussing general soreness, he had no problem throwing 108 pitches. Now, he’s looking ahead to his next start, hoping that he’ll get to pitch some more before the season comes to a close, according to J.P. Hoorntra of The O.C. Register:
“I need to keep on throwing,” he said through his interpreter. “Every time I throw I learn something and get better. I’m going to pitch next year and beyond. The whole experience from this year is going to help me down the road.
“The biggest goal I had coming into this year was staying healthy and finishing healthy,” Ohtani said. “In order to do that, I felt like I needed to balance out certain pitches at certain points in the season because some pitches are more stressful on my elbow than others. We only have a couple games left and I feel good right now physically. I felt like it was time to test out the splitter.”
As a pitcher, simply going out and performing on the mound is motivation enough. However, he’s had more struggles as a hitter. Finding motivation to hit for a team that is not making the playoffs can be difficult, but the slumping Ohtani is using the home run chase to supplement that.
Ohtani no longer leads the league in homers, sitting two behind Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Salvador Perez at 44 to their 46. However, he still has 12 games to catch fire and get the lead back, even if it seems unlikely at the moment.
Both on the mound and at the plate, Ohtani is finding ways to stay at the top of his game in a lost season. The AL MVP award is essentially his to lose — despite Guerrero’s best efforts — so staying healthy and finishing out the year strong remains the biggest motivator.