ANAHEIM — Shohei Ohtani continues to amaze Matt Wise.
The Angels’ pitching coach attempted to explain how the star two-way player has started off this season on the mound looking even better than he did in 2021.
“All the stuff is a little more crisp, including the fastball,” Wise said Tuesday, a day before Ohtani was set to make his fourth start of the season. “Everything he’s doing right now, obviously coming off his last start, is where we’d like to keep it.”
Ohtani took a perfect game into the sixth and finished with six shutout innings against the Houston Astros. In his three starts, he has a 4.40 ERA, but four of the seven runs he’s allowed came on one pitch.
He has 26 strikeouts and four walks in 14-1/3 innings. The average velocities of all of his pitches have increased from last year. The fastball has gone from 95.6 mph to 97.5 mph, the splitter from 88.2 mph to 90.1 mph, the curveball from 74.7 mph to 78.9 mph.
The slider has been particularly impressive, because he’s increased the velocity from 82.2 mph to 84.8 mph, while not losing any of the movement. Typically, a breaking ball would straighten out if it’s thrown harder, but the horizontal movement on Ohtani’s slider went from 15.8 inches last year to 16.0 inches this year.
His splitter has also added movement, from 5.0 inches to 6.8 inches of horizontal movement. The pitches have all lost a little bit of vertical movement, though.
“He’s maintaining shape, but adding velocity, and that’s a special gift,” Wise said.
All of this has come just as part of Ohtani’s normal development, with more time on the mound and more time since his Tommy John surgery, Wise said. He said Ohtani has not changed anything about the way he’s gripping the ball or his mechanics.
“Obviously he’s a very, very, very gifted athlete,” Wise said. “His feel for the baseball – last year he’d throw fastballs from 89 to 101 and command it – is just not common. With a lot of guys, it has to be the same effort, the same intensity, but he’s able to feel the baseball and make it do what he wants it to do better than anybody I’ve seen before.”
While Ohtani is off to a good start on the mound, his performance at the plate has been a different story.
Ohtani was hitting .211 with a .653 OPS heading into Tuesday’s game. He had hit three home runs, with 24 strikeouts in 77 plate appearances.
His struggles at the plate prompted the question to Manager Joe Maddon about giving him a day off. Ohtani has played every game. Maddon said he asked and Ohtani told him he’s fine.
“He’s running well,” Maddon said. “He’s moving well. He feels good. He’s not hitting. If he told me he needed the day off, he’d get one, but he says he feels good.”
Ohtani changed up one part of his routine, though. He took batting practice on the field Tuesday, which he hadn’t done before a regular-season game since Opening Day 2021. Ohtani usually hits in the indoor cage.
Major League Baseball and the Players’ Association agreed to allow teams to carry 14 pitchers beyond May 2, when the 13-pitcher limit was supposed to take effect. Rosters will still shrink from 28 to 26, though.
The Angels, however, will be able to carry 15 because Ohtani counts as a two-way player, not a pitcher.
The change is to allow teams to continue to carry extra pitchers to account for pitchers being more limited coming off a shortened spring training.
“It’s necessary,” Maddon said of the change. “We’re still fighting the residue of the COVID year and guys ramping up even more last year and to where we’re at right now. And the way this spring came to be. The six-week spring training is absolutely necessary. For all the four-week advocates, this is a perfect example of why you’re wrong.”
David Fletcher started at shortstop for Triple-A Salt Lake on Tuesday, the fourth game of his rehab assignment. It’s unclear when he will return to the majors, but Maddon said “I’m not concerned about anything except that he feels good.” When Fletcher returns, he is expected to play second base, with Andrew Velazquez at shortstop. …
Griffin Canning (back) threw 30 pitches, including fastballs and changeups in a bullpen session on Tuesday. He had only thrown fastballs in his first two sessions. Canning is expected to start facing hitters in a few weeks. He is not eligible to come off the injured list until June 6.
Angels (RHP Shohei Ohtani, 1-2, 4.40) vs. Guardians (RHP Zach Plesac, 1-1, 1.53), Wednesday, 6:38 p.m., Bally Sports West, 830 AM