Shohei Ohtani fails to record an out in his return to the mound

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Shohei Ohtani made his return to the mound yesterday. It was a nightmare. In his first pitching action since September 2, 2018, the two-way star faced six Oakland batters and didn’t retire a single one. It went like so:

Ohtani, having failed to record a single out, was then lifted for Matt Andriese, who induced a double play that scored the fifth Oakland run of the game and then struck out Sean Murphy to end the inning. The A’s would only score one more run in the game while the Angels went on to plate four so, yeah, this one was completely and totally on Ohtani.

What happened?

He certainly lacked his usual arm strength in Sunday. He threw 30 pitches, topping out at 94.7 mph with his fastball and averaging only 92.9 mph. When he was starting in 2018 he averaged 96.7 mph and hit triple digits on the regular. The walks, one reasonably suspects, are a function of him knowing that he can’t throw it by guys like he did a couple of years ago, thus causing him to pitch overly carefully. Nibbling when he used to fire it in there.

If that’s what Shohei Ohtani is doing, it’s a mental issue not a physical one Angels manage. “Believe me, health-wise, he’s fine” Angels manager Joe Maddon said after the game. Ohtani, speaking through an interpreter said “I think I wasn’t able to let my arm go entirely,” and said “I was focused more on throwing the ball than on feelings of trying to get the hitter out.” The takeaway: he didn’t trust his arm not to explode if he truly aired it out. A concern, Maddon noted, that wasn’t present during Summer Camp when Ohtani, though he struggled, was often hitting 97 on the gun.

Ohtani — determined to resume his status as baseball’s only true two-way player — usually gets the day off from DH duties after pitching. His outing was so short, however, Maddon suggested that he’d be in the lineup for this afternoon’s game against Oakland.