OAKLAND, Calif. – Back on the mound after nearly 23 months, Shohei Ohtani hardly felt comfortable. Rather rusty, in fact, the ball leaving his hand without the purpose and feel he is so accustomed to.
The way things started, Los Angeles Angels manager Joe Maddon couldn’t see the day getting any better for his Japanese two-way star.
Ohtani didn’t record an out in his long-awaited return to the mound for the Angels, allowing the first six Oakland batters to reach base before his day was done in a 6-4 loss to the Athletics on Sunday.
He may be available as designated hitter in Monday’s series finale.
“I felt like I was ready,” Ohtani said through an interpreter. “Looking back, I felt like I couldn’t throw with all my strength. There’s a lot of things I’ll look back on and work on on the pitching side, but we have another game tomorrow and I still have a chance to play so I’ve got to change my focus to tomorrow’s game.”
The right-hander gave up Marcus Semien’s leadoff single and three straight walks before a mound visit and Mark Canha’s two-run single. Robbie Grossman singled in another run, and Maddon replaced Ohtani (0-1) with Matt Andriese down 4-0.
“He just didn’t throw the ball very well,” Maddon said. “It just wasn’t his day. The fastball wasn’t coming out, there was no deception in his pitches. These are major league hitters. Walks were a big part of that.”
The Angels wasted a big day by Mike Trout, who hit a three-run homer in the third and a sacrifice fly in the fifth. David Fletcher wound up with four hits.
Yusmeiro Petit (1-0) worked out of a fifth-inning jam in relief of Mike Fiers for the win, and Liam Hendriks earned a four-out save after blowing a chance in Friday night’s 10-inning victory.
“It was a good bounce-back one,” Hendriks said.
This was a long time coming for the Angels and 2018 AL Rookie of the Year Ohtani, who took visible deep breaths between pitches. Ohtani made his first appearance on the mound since Sept. 2, 2018 after not pitching last season following Tommy John elbow surgery.
“Again, this is a young man coming off of a severe injury and right now requires all of our patience,” Maddon said.
Ohtani threw 30 pitches, reaching 94.7 mph with his fastball — he averaged 96.7 mph and touched 100 mph in 2018.
“Not so much for the mechanics but I just didn’t get that feel for the game back,” Ohtani said. “Today I just felt like I was throwing the ball rather than pitching. Just a little rust and I need to come up with a game plan so I can get efficient outs.”
He is expected to be the Sunday starter for the Angels this season and was under no pitch limit. Maddon insists he’s invested in Ohtani being a rare two-way player for what it also means to fans in Japan who have supported his quest. He will also make sure Ohtani stays healthy first.
“I’m looking forward to the day we can get a little bit more aggressive with him. I know he is, too,” Maddon said before the game.
Ohtani batted last season but didn’t pitch as he built his arm strength back up after surgery. He went 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA over 10 starts and 51 2/3 innings in 2018 as a rookie.
“You go up there early in the game maybe expecting a little bit more as far as the (velocity) goes,” A's manager Bob Melvin said. “Coming off an injury, we really weren't sure what to expect. We know he is an absolute terrific talent but probably didn't have his best stuff, certainly didn't have his best command today.”
Fiers gave up consecutive singles to Fletcher and Trout to start the game before getting three straight flyballs.
This was Fiers’ first outing since he revealed to The Athletic in November that his former Houston Astros club had stolen signs using a camera in center field during its run to the 2017 World Series championship.
The right-hander pitched his second career no-hitter last season and went 15-4, then didn’t get the ball for an AL wild-card loss to Tampa Bay when Melvin went with lefty Sean Manaea.
Angels: New 3B Anthony Rendon went through a workout on the field. He could be used as designated hitter initially once healthy to play after dealing with an oblique injury. “DH is open. It’s possible he could DH first, I can’t deny that,” Maddon said.
RHP Griffin Canning pitches the wraparound series finale Monday afternoon opposite Oakland RHP Chris Bassitt, who is in the rotation for now with left-hander A.J. Puk sidelined by a strained throwing shoulder.
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