Sometimes I wonder if we will ever reach a point where Shohei Ohtani’s greatness starts to feel routine. I can still look at the numbers he put up during his MVP season last year and not fully believe that such things truly happened, but if he continues to stack numbers like that up over the course of four or five more seasons, it’s possible that I will just start to glaze over them. Sometimes I can already feel myself being pulled towards this muted future when I scroll past an Ohtani highlight and don’t even stop to see how far his latest home run traveled. All of these cool things still happen, and are still cool, but they happen within the purgatory that the Angels have inhabited for decades and so only register so much. There are only so many times you can watch a literal superman mash a big homer that pulls his team to within two runs of the Rangers.
So it’s always nice when Ohtani carves out a few moments that are simply impossible to ignore. He’s given fans several such moments over the last two days. On Tuesday, Ohtani drove in eight runs and hit two three-run homers in the Angels 12-11 extra-innings loss (of course they lost!) to the Royals. The eight RBI set a career high for Ohtani, and he became only the fifth player in MLB history to drive in that many runs in a losing effort.
It just so happened that Ohtani’s next scheduled start fell on Wednesday night, which presented the opportunity for him to follow up his career-best night at the plate with a career-best night on the mound. Due to the fact that baseball is a ridiculously hard sport to play, hoping for such a thing would have been foolish. No, a rational baseball observer might be tempted to say. You can’t just drive in eight runs one night and then go out there and pitch eight shutout innings and strike out 13 batters the next night. You simply cannot do that. To the rational baseball observer, Shohei Ohtani has this to say: The hell I can’t!
If it’s been awhile since you sat down and watched some highlights of Ohtani pitching, I suggest you take in the video above. What should jump out is just how varied Ohtani’s attacks on the strike zone have become. This is a guy who came into the league mostly throwing a high-90s fastball and a ridiculous diving splitter; those are two pitches that, on their own, can keep him in Cy Young contention for an entire career. But he’s since added to that limited but effective arsenal, and you can see the results in what he did to the Royals last night. He was spinning all manner of curveballs, splitters, sliders, cutters, and sliders-that-kind-of-looked-like-splitters over the plate, and the hitters feebly swatting at them couldn’t do anything but be befuddled.
The numbers confirm what Matheny and everyone else is seeing: Ohtani is far less reliant on his fastball than he was when he first came into the league, and his slider and curveball have transitioned from being deployed occasionally for the sake of keeping hitters off-balance into pitches that can really fuck people up. It’s hard to believe that the coolest baseball player in the world is still somehow getting better at his job, but it is extremely fun to watch.