Over his last six starts, Los Angeles Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani legitimately had a case to be the best pitcher in the world. He pitched 39.2 innings, posting an ERA of 0.45, a WHIP of 0.782, and 58 strikeouts compared to just 11 walks and 20 hits.
More importantly, he and the Angels were 6-0 when he pitched, a stat that is almost impossible to grasp considering just how badly the Angels have been floundering in June and July. From June 3 to the All-Star Break, the Angels were 6-0 when Ohtani pitched and 6-28 when he didn’t.
So with Ohtani on the mound to begin the second half of the season against the Atlanta Braves, it felt possible that the Angels would get off to a good start. For six innings, Ohtani was up to his old tricks. He allowed just one hit and no walks while striking out 11 batters.
In fact, Ohtani struck out 10 or more batters in his fifth consecutive start, giving him the third-longest streak of such kind in Angels franchise history. Both the longest and second-longest streaks belong to Nolan Ryan.
But as Ohtani came out for the seventh inning, the flood gates opened at Truist Park. Ohtani walked Dansby Swanson, then immediately gave up a two-run home run to Matt Olson. It was the first time Ohtani had given up more than one run in a start since June 2.
It only unraveled from there, as Ohtani allowed singles to Austin Riley, Travis d’Arnaud, and Eddie Rosario to make it 3-0. Interim manager Phil Nevin left him in, and he then gave up a three-run home run to Orlando Arcia to make it 6-0 and put the game out of reach.
All told, Ohtani finished with six earned runs on six hits and one walk over 6.1 innings. All six runs, five hits, and one walk came in the seventh inning after sheer dominance in the first six frames. Nevin discussed the choice to leave him in the game after the first home run to Olson, according to Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com:
“Really for six innings, they didn’t have a chance,” Nevin said. “He kind of lost it a little bit with Swanson on the 3-2 pitch and then the split just didn’t come out right. It was a couple of soft hits after that. I had [Aaron] Loup ready for Rosario and looking back, I probably should’ve got [Ohtani] out. But you look at him as invincible sometimes, and it just didn’t work out. That’s on me.”
Nevin was quick to place the blame away from Ohtani, though, believing the mental toll of needing to carry a lackluster offense finally got to him after two months of dominance.
“It’s certainly got to be hard on [Ohtani],” Nevin said. “I think every time he goes out there, he feels like he can’t give up a run. And for a while there he didn’t. It’s hard to pitch when you know your offense is struggling. When you’re pitching like he does every night and understanding one little blooper or mistake can hurt you, it’s hard to pitch like that, and that makes what he’s done over the last two months even more impressive.”
As per usual, Ohtani was relatively hard on himself after the one poor inning. Despite knowing that he may not get the run support he needs to be successful, he still put it on himself to pitch better when it’s asked of him.
“When I was coming into the game, I thought the team that scored first would have a really good chance of winning the game,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “But I gave up that two-run shot and it completely gave them the momentum on their side, especially with the way our team has been hitting recently.”
“The two home runs I gave up were bad pitches and deserved to be hit as home runs, especially from a great team like the Braves,” Ohtani said. “The other hits I gave up, I thought I made some good pitches and was a little unlucky, but I regret that inning.”
With the loss, the Angels dropped to 39-54, a whopping 15 games below .500 and a 25-game swing over their last 49 games. It’s hard to expect Ohtani to pitch with that level of composure each and every time he steps on the mound. At a certain point, the offense has to be there to support him.
Hopefully, when Ohtani steps on the mound next, he’ll be zeroed in on replicating the first six innings of his start on Friday as opposed to the seventh. But none of that matters if the offense can’t figure out a way to produce runs on a nightly basis. The Angels are quickly running out of time to make that happen.
Angels changing plate approach
Over the All-Star Break, the Angels took a hard look at some of the dismal offensive numbers they’ve been producing. And chief among their conclusions was an over-hesitancy on fastballs. Nevin, Jared Walsh, and Taylor Ward believe that if the Angels are going to turn things around, it has to start with being more aggressive on fastballs.