4 starts, 2-1, 4.43 ERA, 1.13 WHIP
The hype is justified, and the stuff is real, but we are nowhere near peak Shohei yet. The Angels are treating their prized rookie as if he were made of cotton candy, and given how many of their other starters have gone down with injury, it’s hard to blame them. Subsequently, Ohtani has only made four starts. Two of them were great, one of them was cut short, and the last one, against a powerful Houston lineup, probably tells us the most about him.
The April 24th start in Houston was the first game where normally nonplussed Othani showed real frustration. He wasn’t getting consistent calls from the home plate umpire — he would walk five and strike out seven in just five-plus innings — and after a walk that MLB’s Statcast showed as being a strike at the knees, he grooved a pitch that was hit for a two-run homer. Instead of melting down, however, he was able to grind through that inning. It was particularly telling that, with two outs in the inning, he would be hitting the outside black at 101 MPH with repeated precision despite being frustrated with his command all game.
20-plus innings is not enough to make the concrete grandiose claims his raw stuff inspires, but it is enough to tell us a few things. For starters (pun intended), while the Angels are treating him like a rookie, he’s not one, not in the traditional sense. At 17, in Japan’s national high school baseball tournament, he was throwing 99 MPH. At 20, he was Japan’s Pitcher of the Year, at 21 he was both Pitcher AND Designated Hitter of the year, and led his team to the national championship.
Now, Ohtani’s 23, almost 24. It’s his first year in the big leagues, but it’s his sixth professional season, and he’s spent all six in the most difficult league available to him. He has a baby face, but he’s no baby, and the Angels need to start using him like they mean it. They’re starting to get close to doing that, moving him up in the lineup behind Albert Pujols (he really should be batting behind Mike Trout). A tweaked ankle against the Yankees kept him from his regular rotation start, but he’s expected to get back to the regular Sunday slot he’s worked in so effectively in Japan.
Scioscia allowed Ohtani to start the sixth inning in Houston, after that long, demanding fifth inning in Houston. It’s a signal that he’s willing to see just what kind of weapon he really has.