Shohei Ohtani struggles on mound, with 4.88 ERA in last 8 starts

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
CORRECTS TO TWO-RUN HOME RUN NOT A SOLO HOME RUN – Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani watches a ball hit by Seattle Mariners’ Jarred Kelenic go out for a two-run home run during the first inning of a baseball game Friday, June 9, 2023, in Anaheim, Calif.

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Dominant on the mound for much of the past three seasons, Shohei Ohtani has struggled over the last six weeks.

The two-way Japanese star is 2-2 with a 4.88 ERA in his last eight starts. He has allowed at least three runs in all but two of those games after holding opponents to two or fewer in a franchise record 12 straight dating to last season.

“Up to this point, I haven’t felt like I did last year when I was really good on the mound,” Ohtani said through his interpreter after Friday’s game against Seattle.

Ohtani has allowed three or more runs in six games, matching his total last year when he was 15-9 with a 2.33 ERA and 219 strikeouts. He had a 3.18 ERA in 2021, when he was voted AL MVP.

Ohtani’s skid has left him with a 5-2 record and 3.32 ERA to go along with a .282 batting average, 17 homers and 44 RBIs going into Saturday.

Ohtani leads the majors with a .172 opposing batting average, and his 102 strikeouts are third, but he has had control issues. He walked five against the Mariners, one shy of his big league high, and had a 31-pitch first in an outing where he lasted just five innings on the mound.

Of 37 hits allowed over the past eight starts, 11 have been home runs, including Jarred Kelenic’s two-run shot in the first. Kelenic’s homer came on a sweeper that failed to break inside and stayed near the middle of the plate.

“His stuff is there. The velocity and shape on the pitches,” manager Phil Nevin said. “He is missing in the middle once in a while, a few more times than he has in the past, and he’s been burned.”

Ohtani thinks he is less efficient with moving his body down the mound.

He used a sweeper on 49.4% of his pitches in his first five starts, when he was 3-0 and allowed two earned runs in 28 innings. Use dropped to 35.1% in his past eight outings.

With Ohtani facing more traffic and falling behind in counts, his fastball usage has increased from 40.1% to 55.9%, while his breaking pitch dropped to 35.1% from 53.6%.

Ohtani worked on five days’ rest for all but one of his 13 starts. Following Major League Baseball’s adoption of a pitch clock, Ohtani is calling his own pitches.

Nevin said having pitch selection revert to the catcher would cause more problems.

“He has so many pitches, and to do that on the PitchCom would take too long with the clock. You to fingers it kind of gets complicated, too,” Nevin said. “I don’t think we would change unless he comes to us with something like that. We all talk about game planning and pitch selection and things like that.”

Ohtani made 33 starts on at least six days’ rest during the prior two seasons and 17 on five.

“I’ve been pitching more often compared to the last two years, and there are times where I feel a little more fatigued, maybe because of that,” he said. “But for the most part, I feel pretty good right now, and the goal is to stay healthy to the end of the season,” he said.

Ohtani’s next start is slated for Thursday in a series finale at AL West-leading Texas.