For the first time in nearly two years, Los Angeles Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani took the mound in a big league game Sunday afternoon. Ohtani has been limited to DH duty since undergoing Tommy John surgery in Sept. 2018. Sunday was his first official game action as a pitcher with his new elbow.
Ohtani's return to the mound did not go well. Not at all. Against the Athletics (GameTracker), Ohtani faced six batters and retired zero. His inning went single, walk, walk, walk, single, single, showers. Reliever Matt Andriese allowed one of two inherited runners to score, so Ohtani was charged with five runs and zero outs recorded. His ERA is infinity.
Ohtani battled control problems during summer camp, including walking eight in an intrasquad game, plus he walked 10.4 percent of batters faced in his 51 2/3 innings in 2018. That's well above the 8.8 percent league average. Ohtani is not blessed with great control to begin with, and It's not uncommon for pitchers to struggle with their control following Tommy John surgery. That's not a great combination.
Ohtani threw 16 fastballs and topped out at 94.7 mph on Sunday. His heater averaged 92.9 mph. In 2018, he averaged 97.3 mph and topped out at 101.9 mph with his fastball. Clearly, he's still building arm strength. Here is Ohtani's strike zone plot. Only 15 of his 30 pitches Sunday were strikes and it looks like fewer than that were actually in the strike zone:
Ohtani is the first pitcher to allow three hits and three walks without retiring a batter since Ryan Vogelsong back in 2004, according to MLB.com's Paul Casella. He's the first American League pitcher to do it since Blake Stein in 1998.
The Angels plan to use a six-man rotation this season and start Ohtani once a week, mostly on Sundays because they have frequent off-days on Monday. Ohtani does not play the day before or after starts. The other days he serves as the DH. Ohtani is 1 for 5 at the plate this season and is a .285/.350/.530 hitter in 211 big-league games.
Sunday's outing was ugly, though I would not expect the Angels to pull the plug on Ohtani as a starter anytime soon. He is just coming back from elbow reconstruction and they know there will bumps along the way. Ohtani's upside is considerable -- he threw 51 2/3 innings with 63 strikeouts and a 3.31 ERA in 2018 -- and it's worth being patient with him.