693 days following his last regular-season game pitched, Shohei Ohtani returned to the mound at the Oakland Coliseum on Sunday afternoon after recovering from his 2018 Tommy John surgery.
Ohtani’s first MLB outing, which also took place in Oakland, Calif., was a storybook start to his career as he pitched six innings and struck out six Athletics as the Angels cruised to a 7-4 victory.
Sunday’s performance was anything but the successful start Ohtani performed during his rookie season. Just like so many things in 2020, Ohtani’s outing was anything but a successful pitching performance in the box score.
Ohtani failed to record a single out against the first six Athletics hitters he faced on Sunday afternoon in Oakland. Ohtani’s first pitch was a fastball to Athletics lead-off hitter Marcus Semien before the Athletics’ shortstop hit a hard line-drive single on the second pitch to center field. Ohtani then began to struggle with command, falling behind in the counts and walking Ramon Laureno, Matt Chapman, and Matt Olson consecutively and eventually forcing in the first run of the game.
Angels new pitching coach, Mickey Callaway, then visited the mound and Ohtani seemed more relaxed. His breaking ball in particular improved to the following hitter Mark Canha. Eventually, Canha would hit a line drive single on a 3-2 count to right field, driving in two more runs. Ohtani got ahead of Robbie Grossman 0-1 before he singled to right field, leading Joe Maddon to pull his prized starting pitcher from the game and call it a day him.
Of Ohtani’s 30 pitches, only 15 were called as strikes as he struggled with command and finding the corners that he was so successful accomplishing in the past. Considering Ohtani did not pitch in the original 2020 Spring Training and hadn’t faced opposing hitters since 2018, you would expect him to have some challenges. He struggled with control in intrasquad match-ups in Angels summer camp games but attributed much of that to facing his own teammates.
On a day in which division rivals Houston Astros and Texas Rangers announced injuries to key starters Justin Verlander and Corey Kluber, the fact that Ohtani seemingly exited the game healthily is a bright spot for the Angels. Ohtani’s fastball did not reach higher than the mid-90s in Sunday afternoon’s game and failed to approach anywhere near the pre-surgery 100 MPH heater he displayed during his rookie campaign.
While many Angels fans will surely be ranting about the results of Ohtani’s Sunday performance, his health was not compromised and the jury should hold off judgment on his season until after he gets a few more starts under his belt this season. His stuff looked good at times and he will improve his command with more repetition in future regular-season games. Look for Ohtani to continue to improve and be one of the better starting pitchers in the league before the end of the season.
Matt Andriese entered the game for the Angels and pitched well across 5.2 innings of relief, holding the Athletics to the five runs they recorded off Ohtani and allowing the Angels to close the Athletics’ lead to 5-4 before Noe Ramirez entered the game and surrendered another run to Oakland, giving the Athletics the 6-4 lead that would ultimately be the final score.
Andriese was the scheduled starter for the Angels’ home opener on Tuesday but his five-plus innings Sunday will likely lead to Patrick Sandoval making that start instead. Expect the Angels’ six-man rotation to shuffle a bit as a result, likely leading to Andrew Heaney starting Wednesday followed by Dylan Bundy on Thursday, Matt Andriese on Friday, Griffin Canning on Saturday, and Shohei Ohtani returning to the mound next Sunday at home against Houston.