Shohei Ohtani will be on the mound for the Los Angeles Angels against the host Houston Astros on Saturday night, still evolving as a pitcher, still trying to get better.
In recent starts, Ohtani (11-8, 2.58 ERA) has introduced a pitch he hadn’t thrown — a two-seam fastball (sinker). Apparently, his fastball, curveball, splitter, cutter and slider weren’t enough, so he began tinkering with the two-seamer in bullpen sessions before using it in a game for the first time last month.
The right-hander threw the pitch 18 times in his most recent start, against the Astros last Saturday, and held the American League West leaders to one run in eight innings in a 2-1 Angels victory in 12 innings.
If the Astros hitters weren’t ready for it the last time, they will be now. Hitting it, though, may still be an issue.
“I mean, you can see it,” Angels interim manager Phil Nevin said. “It’s got 17-18 inches of run across the plate, and it’s still at 98-99 miles per hour. That’s a pretty tough pitch to handle for any hitter, certainly as a right-handed hitter.
“To me that’s a difference-making pitch for even a guy that’s a difference maker himself.”
The Astros (89-49) rank among the American League’s top four teams in runs, home runs, total bases, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, but Ohtani has pitched well against them.
In four starts vs. Houston this season, he is 2-1 with a 1.09 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings. Ohtani is 2-3 with a 3.65 ERA in nine career starts against the Astros.
At the plate, Ohtani is not showing signs of fatigue. In his past 10 games, he is hitting .333 (14-for-42) with six homers and 11 RBIs.
Right-hander Jose Urquidy (13-5, 3.51) will make his 26th start of the season for Houston and is coming off a stellar performance against the Angels (60-78) last Sunday.
Urquidy threw seven scoreless innings, allowing four hits and striking out eight in a 9-1 Astros victory last Sunday against the Angels. He is 5-0 with a 3.00 ERA in nine career games (eight starts) against the Angels, including 3-0 with a 1.00 ERA in three starts this season.
Astros second baseman Jose Altuve has had a good season overall, and he’s been even better recently. Despite going 0-for-4 in Friday’s 4-3 win over the Angels, Altuve is hitting .338 (24-for-71) with 11 extra-base hits in 18 games since Aug. 18, raising his OPS from .871 to .895.
“I’m just trying to put good contact on the pitch I want,” Altuve said. “I think it’s still a little early to talk about results. We can talk about that at the end of the season. I’m feeling really good right now, and I’m trying to go out there and get on base and, obviously, help my team win more games.”
–Field Level Media