Amid the Angels’ 16-hit outburst in Saturday night’s 16-3 win over Seattle was one concerning offensive performance: Shohei Ohtani went hitless in five at-bats and looked helpless while striking out on sweeping sliders from Mariners left-hander Justus Sheffield in his first three at-bats.
This was not an aberration. Ohtani has struggled for much of the season, batting .178 with a .658 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, five homers and 18 RBIs entering Sunday’s game against Seattle in Angel Stadium.
But the left-handed-hitting slugger has been particularly vulnerable to left-handers, batting .091 (three for 33) with a .382 OPS, zero homers, zero RBIs, 12 strikeouts and six walks against them.
“Primarily, from what I’m seeing, against left-handed pitching has been the biggest problem,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said of Ohtani. “I do believe he’s gonna work through it and get back to what you guys have seen in the past.
“I have not had the privilege of watching it in person yet. He’s off, no question. But he has the right thoughts and work. It’s a matter of taking it into a game.”
Ohtani, relegated to designated hitter while he recovered from Tommy John surgery in 2019, hit .282 (29 for 103) with a .794 OPS, three homers, 13 RBIs, 37 strikeouts and 10 walks against left-handers last season.
But this season, he has fallen into a habit of stepping back in the batter’s box or pulling off toward the first-base line against left-handers, and especially on breaking balls, making it difficult to hit sliders that are near the plate and nearly impossible to hit the ones that start over the plate and break outside.
“We just need to have him put his seat belt on,” Maddon said. “The breaking ball pushes him off the plate, and then it becomes a strike. With young guys like that, it’s a matter of recognizing spin early.
“The breaking ball you can hit is the one that starts out at you and becomes a strike. A lot of guys like to swing at the pitch that starts out as a strike and becomes a ball. These are things you have to continue to work on.”
Maddon placed Ohtani in the second spot in the lineup again Sunday, an effort to get him better pitches to hit with Mike Trout behind him. Ohtani has also done a decent job of situational hitting, driving in two runners from third base with ground balls Saturday night.
Maddon also likes Ohtani’s speed in the second spot. Ohtani scored from first on Trout’s two-run double in the sixth inning.
“Man, he can fly,” Maddon said. “I'd heard he could run, and I love that. … There's a lot to like. I mean, I easily could have put [Brian Goodwin] up there today and moved Ohtani down. But I do anticipate him to be a little toasty soon. I love the speed, and he made contact when he had to and drove in two runs. They were groundouts but I'll take them.”