Shohei Ohtani’s Dazzling MLB Pitching Debut

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A brutal spring training performance led to many whispers about starting the season in the minor leagues but Shohei Ohtani came out and shut those whispers down on Sunday afternoon in Oakland. In his Major League Baseball pitching debut (he went 1-4 as a hitter in his MLB hitting debut Thursday), Ohtani crushed it in his six innings of work and recorded his first MLB win.

Ohtani ran a 68.47 percent strike rate in six innings, walked just one batter and struck out six hitters. His three hits and three runs allowed all came in a three-batter stretch in the second inning, which was capped off by a three-run home run by Oakland Athletics third baseman Matt Chapman. In his other five innings of work, Ohtani allowed one lone batter to reach via a walk.

The performance was nothing short of brilliant and Ohtani made fools work of Athletics hitters for most of the game. Ohtani mainly relied on his three plus pitches: fastball, split-finger fastball, and slider. He also mixed in a curveball that was a sneaky change-of-pace pitch that changed eye levels for hitters. With above-average command, Ohtani located most of his pitches throughout the afternoon and maintained his stuff late into the game.

Much of the buzz came from a fastball that averaged 96.6 mph, touched 99 MPH numerous times and hit 100 a few times. While the pitch had a below average spin rate (2033 RPM) by MLB standards, the pitch was consistently in the 96-100 MPH range and hitters had a huge issue catching up with the pure velocity of the pitch.

He paired his fastball with a split-finger fastball that sat in the 88-91 MPH range and generated some horrendous swings from Oakland hitters. Ohtani utilized the pitch against both right-handed hitters and left-handed hitters, throwing the pitching in any count. The pitch was responsible for five of the six strikeouts on the day.

He flashed plenty of plus sliders and missed bats with it but did struggle to locate the pitch consistently. When he did locate the pitch, it was borderline impossible to square up or make contact with.

The biggest damage against Ohtani was the Chapman home run, which came against a slider that wasn’t all that poorly located. The attempt was to bury a 0-1 slider low and away but Ohtani left it up a bit and Chapman deposited the pitch over the wall in left-center field, giving Oakland a 3-2 lead.

Overall, Ohtani’s command and plus-plus stuff led to an absurd amount of swing-and-misses. Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs pointed out that Ohtani ran a 62 percent contact rate, which is on the level of strikeout specialist Dellin Betances. Ohtani generated 18 swing-and-misses, a feat that that was not met very often by Angels pitchers last season.

Shohei Ohtani passed the test on Sunday afternoon, strutting his stuff in his first MLB victory.Click To Tweet

After a much publicized signing process during the offseason and a media-craze in Arizona for spring training, Ohtani came out on Sunday afternoon and showed why so many teams pursued him. There is a long process ahead of him but he proved Sunday that he’s going to be an absolute force in the league and he oozes upside that only a select few pitchers have today.

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