by Stu Matthews, Angels Nation managing editor
The Shohei Show was only so-so on Saturday on a grey, chilly afternoon at Camelback Ranch in Arizona.
But worry not, Shohei Ohtani fans — the good “so” in this “so-so” was much better than the bad “so.”
Ohtani showed off his pitching side for the second time this spring against a fully-loaded lineup of the host Chicago White Sox.
And for his second straight start, Ohtani showed that if he can make a few tweaks on the mound, very few pitchers in the major leagues can match his arsenal of strikeout-inducing pitches
Ohtani had been penciled in to pitch three innings on Saturday, an ambitious target for a single day because it’s more innings than the oft-injured Ohtani has been able to log across 2019 and 2020 combined.
He didn’t quite get there, but the Japanese right-hander still fired 58 pitches. He got cuffed around a bit by the selective White Sox hitters, giving up five runs in 2.1 innings of work, but three of those runs came when he was out of the game.
It could have looked prettier with some better relief work and defense — but Ohtani is now the Angels’ spring leader in strikeouts with nine K victims in only four complete innings.
After the game, Ohtani told reporters though his interpreter Ippei Mizuhara that he was happy to have been able to face so many of the White Sox regulars.
“I haven’t really pitched in a while because of my surgery and rehab,” Ohtani said. “But up to this point, I’m really satisfied with how the spring’s turning out.”
And some of his strikeouts looked a lot like the vicious punchouts he showed off in early 2018 in his AL Rookie of the Year campaign: Splitters, sliders in on the hands and curveballs plummeting to earth.
Let’s look at one of those, this sword-shortening effort of Chicago third baseman Yoan Moncada:
Shohei Ohtani may be the Filthiest Pitcher in Baseball.
Don't @ me.
Exhibit A. This 3 pitch sequence. pic.twitter.com/YOWWxrjpHH
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 13, 2021
The ‘Brief Breakdown’:
Pitching: Ohtani gave up a right-field gap double to Tim Anderson, Chicago’s dangerous leadoff man, in the first, but then he pitched out of a jam in spectacular fashion, getting out of the inning on 16 pitches, 11 of them strikes.
Ohtani struck out Chicago’s Jose Abreu, the reigning AL MVP, with the last pitch of the inning, a splitter diving into the dirt.
He got cuffed around in the second when he stopped firing in his fastball for first-pitch strikes. Luis Robert, the White Sox’ mercurial center fielder, proved to be Ohtani’s kryptonite, turning on first-pitch fastballs from the Japanese and crushing a mammoth homer in the second.
Ohtani is a work in progress — but it looks surprisingly similar to what we saw in 2018, when Ohtani had a rough spring training but dominated once the regular season began.
Alex Claudio, the lefty bullpen specialist the Angels signed from the Milwaukee Brewers, pitched a scoreless inning of relief with one strikeout. Young right-hander Chris Rodriguez struck out two in two innings of scoreless relief. And lefty Reid Detmers, the Angels’ No. 1 draft pick in 2020, pitched an inning but allowed a homer to Chicago second baseman Leury Garcia …
Batters: Center fielder Juan Lagares, who won a Gold Glove with the New York Mets in 2014, kept himself in pole position for the fourth outfielder role with his red-hot bat.
Lagares drove in Taylor Ward for the game’s first run when he crunched a line drive off the center field fence for a double. Lagares scored later on an RBI single by catcher Kurt Suzuki.
Infielder Jack Mayfield and outfielder Brandon Marsh started a mini-rally in the ninth, but Marsh got caught stealing and Matt Thaiss struck out to end the threat.
Center fielder Jo Adell crashed hard into the wall in the second when he failed to track down Adam Eaton’s drive into the gap. Adell was taken out of the game from precautionary purposes.
On Sunday: Angels right-hander Dylan Bundy (0-0), the team’s de-facto “ace,” takes the mound for his second start of the spring at Sloane Park in Mesa. Arizona against the Chicago Cubs, who will start righty Trevor Williams (1-0).