Angels’ Shohei Ohtani has career-high 12 strikeouts in dominant outing against Astros – Daily Breeze

HOUSTON — Shohei Ohtani’s uniform was dirty before he threw his first pitch of the game.

And then his pitches were even more filthy.

After running the bases twice in a six-run top of the first inning, Ohtani buzzed through the Houston Astros in one of the best starts of his major league career, taking a perfect game into the sixth and finishing with six innings in the Angels’ 6-0 victory on Wednesday night.

Ohtani gave up one single, walked one and struck out 12, equaling his career high.

“He was possessed tonight,” Manager Joe Maddon said. “That was a virtuoso performance. From the beginning, he had a different look about him. And the stuff equaled the look.”

Ohtani said through his interpreter that it was “possibly” the best game he has pitched in the majors. His other 12-strikeout game, in the second start of his career, was a game in which he lost a perfect game in the seventh.

This time he was thinking about the perfect game, but he realized it was a longshot.

“The pitch count was getting up there, so I probably wasn’t going to be able to finish it,” said Ohtani, who was removed after 81 pitches.

Maddon said afterward that Ohtani’s pitch limit was 85, but not if he was throwing a perfect game.

“There’s no number,” Maddon said. “He’s gonna pitch a perfect game. I’m not gonna get in the way of a player’s greatness, ever.”

Ohtani said he was “locked in” throughout the game, and it didn’t hurt that he had a comfortable lead the entire time. The Angels scored six runs in the top of the first to knock out starter Jake Odorizzi. Ohtani led off the game with a walk and then doubled home two runs as the Angels batted around.

His time on the bases left his uniform soiled before he took the mound, and he quickly demonstrated that he was ready to move past the disappointment of his last start. Ohtani gave up six runs, including the first grand slam of his career, in a loss to the Texas Rangers last Thursday.

It’s probably no coincidence that Ohtani pitched so well after pitching so poorly.

“He’s very difficult on himself,” Maddon said. “Expectation-wise, nobody has any higher expectations for themselves than he does. He’s just a really proud person. He gets it. He knows why he’s here. He knows what he’s here for. He demonstrated that last year. And this is the kind of stuff that puts you in a real conversation for a Cy Young.”

Ohtani was sharp with all his pitches, especially his slider. He threw his slider 43% of the time, which was significantly up from the 28.7% of the time he’d thrown in it his first two starts or the 21.8% he used it last season.

“You don’t need to give him a scouting report,” Maddon said. “He knows the opposition. He knows how he feels. He attacks hitters based on what he’s seeing and what he’s feeling. If the slider is really good, and it was – he was throwing it for a strike at will – I’m gonna throw my slider. That’s just the genius of how he works.”

Ohtani struck out two in the first inning, including one that so frustrated Michael Brantley that he shattered his bat slamming it into the dirt. He whiffed all three in the third – including Niko Goodrum, whose helmet popped off as he flailed at a slider – and the fourth. He struck out two more in the fifth.

“He was super locked in from pitch one,” catcher Max Stassi said. “He was relentless, attacking the zone. He was in the driver’s seat the whole night.”

In the sixth, Goodrum tried to bunt for a hit against the Angels’ defensive shift. The ball rolled foul, and Ohtani then struck him out. Both Maddon and Ohtani said they had no issue with Goodrum trying to bunt.

Astros catcher Jason Castro then broke up the perfect game and the no-hitter by dropping a clean single into center field. An out later, Ohtani issued his first walk of the game. He retired Brantley on a groundout to finish the sixth.

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