Angels fans no doubt remember the Aug. 15 game against the Seattle Mariners that ended with a ninth inning gone awry in the most tumultuous way and went viral on social media.
That late chaos, in which the Angels gave up four unearned runs and lost, overshadowed a Shohei Ohtani start in which he unveiled a new tool in his pitching arsenal.
He threw it just six times; four were balls, one turned into a groundout and one resulted in a strikeout.
It was a pitch that Ohtani said he worked on in bullpen sessions and decided that game was the right time to show it off. He threw it six times on Aug. 27 in a 2-0 win against the Toronto Blue Jays.
The evolution of that pitch has been impressive. On Saturday against the Houston Astros, he threw the sinker 18 times.
The results: seven called strikes — one of which was a strikeout — seven balls, one foul, one pop out and two hits (a single by Yuli Gurriel and a double by Jose Altuve). At its fastest, Ohtani’s sinker reached 100.6 mph. At its slowest, it was still 94 mph. It hovered between 97 and 99 mph.
“Felt really good about it for the most part,” Ohtani explained through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara after Saturday’s game. “Gave up a couple of hits, but they were pretty unlucky. I was able to locate it where I wanted it and I was able to throw a lot of it, so it was really good.”
It was a measured response compared to the way interim manager Phil Nevin said Ohtani felt about it during the game.
“He said himself [to Mizuhara], ‘My two-seamer is nasty today.’ To me that’s a difference-making pitch for even a guy that’s a difference maker himself,” Nevin said. “That’s just him when he’s in the moment.
“He’s confident. When he’s in a groove and he knows he’s in a groove, it’s like Larry Bird in basketball or Magic or Jordan. It’s not trash talking. It’s just he knows what he’s got.”
The introduction of a new pitch adds to the lore of Ohtani as an ever-improving two-way competitor. Ohtani, the unanimous American League most valuable player last year, and the New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge are considered the favorites for this season’s award.
“To me that’s a difference-making pitch for even a guy that’s a difference maker himself.”
— Phil Nevin, on Shohei Ohtani’s two-seamer
Pitchers usually look to develop new pitches in the offseason, though it’s not uncommon to try to do so during the year. Angels left-hander José Suarez added a changeup this season. Ohtani developed his cutter in the middle of last season.
The introduction of an effective sinker has surprised no one in the Angels clubhouse.
“Nothing he does surprises any of us,” starting pitcher Patrick Sandoval said. “He’s a unicorn. He can do whatever, however, how quick he wants to.
“It’s funny, we worked out in the offseason. I think we were doing jumps or something and he always wants to know, ‘What’s the record? What’s the record?’ Because he wants to beat it. He aims to be the best at everything.”
Saturday’s game with the Astros went 12 innings before the Angels won 2-1 on Matt Duffy’s RBI single. As a result of the late game, and with Ohtani throwing eight innings, he was given Sunday off by Nevin ahead of a 9-1 loss.
Also getting a scheduled day off, but for maintenance reasons, was infielder David Fletcher.
Pitcher Michael Lorenzen, who has been on the injured list since the beginning of July with a right shoulder strain, will probably start Friday in Houston, according to Nevin. Ohtani is scheduled to pitch Saturday.