Despite the massive weight on his shoulders from all of the expectations that were piled on him with the jump to Major League Baseball this season, Shohei Ohtani has somehow managed to exceed even the most optimistic of projections through the first week and a half of the 2018 campaign.
At the plate, he has already shown off his massive power. Ohtani has started as the Angels’ designated hitter four times so far, and he has homered in three of those contests. He’s slashing a mighty .389/.421/.889 with the aforementioned three bombs (which happen to have occurred in his last three games consecutively) and seven RBI.
His debut on the mound wasn’t quite as impressive, but was still pretty good in it’ own right. In that start, Ohtani limited the Athletics to three runs on three hits and a walk over his six innings of work. That doesn’t quite paint the entire picture though. He retired the first four hitters that he faced in order, before Matt Joyce singled with one out in the second inning. Pitching out of the stretch for the first time, he gave up another single to Stephen Piscotty and a three-run bomb to Matt Chapman. That would be the last hit he would allow. He went on to retire 14 of the next 15 hitters before departing.
Sunday was going to be an interesting test for him in his first home start with the Halos. Not only had the rest of Major League Baseball had a chance to watch his first start and see how he attacked hitters now that the games counted, he was taking on the same Athletics squad that he defeated in his debut. If any team was going to be prepared to face him, surely it would be the A’s seeing him for the second time in a week.
Ohtani was as dominant as any starter that I have seen in a long, long time. He retired the first 18 hitters in order, 11 of those via strikeout, carrying a perfect game into the seventh inning. After getting the first out in the seventh, Marcus Semien lined a sharp single into left field to give the Athletics their first baserunner of the ballgame. It also gave the home crowd in Anaheim a chance to give their new two-way star a well-deserved standing ovation.
Ohtani would walk the next hitter after Semien’s single, before battling back and getting the last two outs in the seventh. All told, he surrendered just the one hit and one walk while striking out 12 over seven spectacular innings. In doing so, Ohtani became just the third pitcher in American League history to strike out 12 or more hitters in one of the first two starts of his career.
What’s even more impressive, is that he generated a whopping 24 swings and misses in the ballgame. Twenty four. That’s the highest total for any start by any pitcher in baseball this season.
Sure, his electric fastball that sits at a smooth and easy 99 mph is a tremendous weapon. It’s his wipe-out splitter though that has been putting big league hitters away. Through his first two starts, Ohtani has thrown a total of 66 splitters. He has generated swings and misses on 28 of those, good for a 42% swinging strike rate. That’s an absurdly high number.
In total, Ohtani has generated swinging strikes on 26.4% of his offerings. For comparison's sake, Corey Kluber led all of baseball in swinging strike percentage during the 2017 season, at 15.6%.
Obviously, it would be crazy to expect him to continue at this pace, both offensively and on the mound. But through the first week and a half of the regular season, it looks as though the Angels have landed an absolute two-way superstar.
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While one terrific young arm was flirting with perfection in Anaheim, another was putting on a dazzling pitching display of his own in Pittsburgh.
Jameson Taillon delivered the finest performance of his young career on Sunday, pitching the first shutout of his career in a magnificent one-hitter against the Reds. It was also the first complete game for the 26-year-old hurler. It was the first one-hitter for the franchise since A.J. Burnett accomplished the feat back in 2012.
Sunday marked the first time in 45 career starts that Taillon had even pitched into the ninth inning. He was determined to finish it. "He asked me if I had pitches left," Taillon said of talking to manager Clint Hurdle after the eighth inning, "I don't even know if I said anything back. I just looked at him like, yeah, I'm going back out."
Taillon walked two and hit a batter while striking out seven on the afternoon. The lone hit that he did allow was a single to opposing pitcher Tyler Mahle in the third inning. He threw a career-high 110 pitches in the game, 67 of them for strikes.
He also helped his own cause with his bat, driving in the game’s first run with an RBI single in the second inning.
His catcher, Francisco Cervelli was full of praise for his right-hander after the game. "He knows he's got good stuff, but he's got more experience, and he's a smart guy… It's amazing. This guy, he's special, man."
He has now been sensational in each of his first two starts of the season, and we could be looking at a true ascension into elite status for the Pirates’ ace. He’ll look to replicate this fine effort when he takes on the Marlins his next time out on Saturday.
Down Goes Suarez
X-rays confirmed the bad news, that Suarez suffered a fractured right thumb. While no clear timetable has emerged yet, he’s certainly headed for a lengthy stay on the disabled list. Also, with hand, wrist or thumb injuries, there is no guarantee that his power will return to form once he does finally return from the disabled list.
Reds’ manager Bryan Price was obviously saddened by the injury. He told reporters afterwards, "There's no way to sugarcoat it. He's a big part of our ballclub… Looked like he was just starting to warm up a bit at the plate. It's the risk of playing baseball is the chance to get hurt. I'm looking forward to hearing what the news is probably [Monday] to see what we could anticipate as far as how much time Geno could miss. I'm really disappointed he was hurt today."
It sounds as though, at least in the short-term, that the team will use a combination of Phil Gosselin and Cliff Pennington to handle the hot corner in his absence. Alex Blandino was pulled from his game at Triple-A Louisville following the Suarez injury and could be on his way to Cincinnati to help out as well.
The real question on the minds of fantasy owners though, is whether or not the injury will speed up top prospect Nick Senzel’s arrival in Cincinnati. The 22-year-old, who is a third baseman by trade, has been playing second base at Louisville to start the season. It’s very possible that they’ll wait until the Super 2 deadline passes later this week and then summon Senzel from Triple-A. If unowned and available in deeper mixed leagues, he’s worth a stash for a few days on that assumption.
American League Quick Hits: Sunday’s game between the Mariners and Twins was postponed due to inclement weather. It’ll be made up on May 14… Xander Bogaerts was pulled from Sunday’s game with a left ankle injury that he sustained while sliding into the stairwell of the third base dugout. He’ll be re-evaluated on Monday… Lonnie Chisenhall landed on the 10-day disabled list with a right calf strain… Gary Sanchez (calf) missed his second straight game but is expected to return on Tuesday… Chris Davis missed Sunday’s game against the Yankees due to illness… Ryon Healy will undergo an MRI after twisting his right ankle in the weight room after Saturday’s game. It sounds like he’s heading for the disabled list… Brad Miller was placed on the 10-day disabled list with a groin strain sustained while running the bases during Sunday’s game… Yan Gomes blasted a walk-off two-run homer to sink the Royals… Jason Hammel fired six innings of shutout baseball in a no-decision… Andrew Benintendi hit a go-ahead two-run double in the eighth inning to lead the Red Sox past the Rays… Alex Colome blew his second consecutive save chance and could be losing his stranglehold on the closer’s job in Tampa Bay… Mike Fiers fired six shutout innings in a victory over the White Sox in his 2018 season debut… George Springer was lifted from Sunday’s game due to leg soreness. Look for an update on his status on Monday… Tim Anderson swiped his American League-leading fifth base in a loss to the Tigers… Craig Gentry delivered an RBI single in the 12th inning to beat the Yankees… Charlie Morton fanned seven and didn’t allow an earned run over six innings in a victory over the Padres… Giancarlo Stanton went 0-for-7 and struck out five times in an extra-inning loss to the Orioles… Brad Peacock worked a perfect ninth inning to earn his first save of the season with Ken Giles unavailable on Sunday… Mike Trout belted his third home run and swiped his second base in a win against the Athletics… Roberto Osuna picked up his fourth save, getting the final four outs against the Rangers…
National League Quick Hits: The Brewers finally placed Christian Yelich on the 10-day disabled list with a right oblique strain. The move was made retroactive to April 5, so he’s eligible to return as soon as April 15… Scott Schebler (elbow) missed his sixth straight game on Sunday… Anthony Rizzo missed his third consecutive contest due to back tightness, and could be held out of the team’s hope opener on Monday… Jeff Samardzija is hopeful for a return to the Giants’ rotation around April 19… Cody Bellinger sat out Sunday’s game due to a case of food poisoning… Alex Wood had his next start pushed back an extra day, until Wednesday, with the same issue… Gregory Polanco (foot) returned to the Pirates’ lineup and crushed his third home run in a win over the Reds… Brad Ziegler notched his first save of the season in a win over the Phillies… Jason Vargas will require a minor league rehab start before rejoining the Mets’ rotation. Zack Wheeler will start for the Mets on Wednesday… Jose Quintana scattered three hits over six scoreless innings in a win over the Brewers… Brad Boxberger slammed the door on the Cardinals to earn his fourth save… Ozzie Albies belted his third home run and added an RBI double in a win over the Rockies… Sean Newcomb racked up nine strikeouts over six scoreless frames to defeat the Rockies… Clayton Kershaw fanned six over seven innings of one-run ball in a no-decision against the Giants… Kenley Jansen struck out the side in the 10th inning to earn his first save of the 2018 season, hitting 100 mph on the radar gun… Bryce Harper crushed his league-leading sixth home run in a losing effort against the Mets… Adrian Gonzalez hammered a grand slam off of Tanner Roark, his first long ball as a member of the Mets.