Sunday brought most American baseball fans their first good look at what kind of pitcher Angels two-way prospect Shohei Ohtani might be. What they saw was pretty fuckin’ good.
Ohtani went six innings against the A’s, surrendering three runs on three hits while striking out six and walking one. All three runs were scored by Matt Chapman dinger in the second inning, and Ohtani bounced back from that by retiring 14 of the next 15 hitters he faced. He was overpowering.
Ohtani came at the A’s with a three-pitch mixture of fastballs, sliders, and splitters. What was most impressive was how much confidence he had in each pitch—he threw 39 fastballs, 26 sliders, and 24 splitters—and how effective each one was. His average fastball velocity settled at just a tick below 98 mph, and his splitter elicited 10 swinging strikes.
It’s worth remembering that Ohtani was only able to pitch 25 innings in Japan last year because of an ankle injury, and did not look great during a few spring training starts. The fact that he was able to pitch as sharply as he did while making his first major-league start at age 23, in a situation where more than a little rust would have been completely understandable, speaks well of his potential. He hung a few sliders and missed a few spots with his fastball yesterday, but he only walked one guy and when everything was clicking he was impossible to hit.
We still have to see how Ohtani’s hitting abilities will translate to the major leagues, but even after just one start I don’t think it’s too early to say he has the stuff required to become a top-line starting pitcher. The A’s had to face a guy with Noah Syndergaard’s fastball and Masahiro Tanaka’s splitter yesterday. That sort of pitcher is going to give a lot of teams trouble.