Shohei Ohtani’s kryptonite is no different than that of Cody Bellinger or Joey Gallo or any young left-handed slugger in the big leagues: the sweeping breaking ball from a left-handed pitcher.
It’s the primary reason Ohtani, despite all of his tape-measure home runs and vicious line drives, has struggled against left-handers, batting .170 (nine for 53) with a .499 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, no homers, two RBIs and 22 strikeouts against them.
The rookie entered Wednesday night’s game against the Rays with a .296 average, .967 OPS, nine homers, 23 RBIs and 34 strikeouts against right-handers.
“A lot of lefties struggle with that pitch,” Angels hitting coach Eric Hinske said. “It looks like he’s going to hit it sometimes, and he’s a little bit early or a little bit late.”
Or not even close. Ohtani struck out swinging on a Ryan Yarbrough slider that was at least a foot outside and near the dirt with two on to end the sixth inning of Tuesday night’s game, his body corkscrewing out of the batter’s box and toward the first base dugout.
“We’re just trying to keep him in there, you know?” Hinske said. “He has a tendency to want to fall out of it and have that sort of Ichiro-like swing leaning toward first base. We’re trying to keep him over the plate so he can go opposite field with that pitch.”
Ohtani is taking extra swings off the team’s left-handed batting-practice pitcher and the left-handed breaking ball machine. The key, Hinske said, is recognizing the pitch and location.
The slider that starts inside can be hit. The one that starts middle or middle-away is a chase pitch that usually breaks about a foot outside.
“You definitely have to make it a strike — get a pitch you can handle and whack it,” Hinske said. “The mechanics of his swing are great. He has to determine if it’s a strike as early as possible. I think the more he faces them, and he’s starting to get regular at-bats against them now, it’s gonna help out.”
Velocity doesn’t bother Ohtani. He turned around a 95-mph fastball from Rays left-hander Jose Alvarado in his last at-bat Tuesday, sending a line drive into center field for a single.
Hinske saw Ohtani make adjustments to transform himself from a player who looked overmatched for much of spring training to one of the game’s most dynamic young hitters, so he is confident Ohtani will figure out how to hit sweeping breaking balls from left-handers.
“I definitely think he will continue to improve,” Hinske said. “The ceiling with Shohei is endless. Just keep giving him little nuggets every day and get him consistent at-bats. He’s still a rookie, he’s new to the league, seeing these guys for the first time, and hitting in the big leagues is pretty tough.”
On the rise
Jo Adell is not on the major league depth chart just yet, but the organization’s most highly touted prospect since Mike Trout just pulled into the neighborhood.
Adell, 19, the 10th overall pick in the 2017 draft, was promoted to double-A Mobile this week after hitting .326 with a 1.009 OPS, six homers and 29 RBIs in 25 games at Class-A Burlington (Iowa) and .290 with an .891 OPS, 12 homers and 42 RBIs in 57 games at advanced Class-A Inland Empire.
The 6-foot-3, 210-pound center fielder hit a 428-foot home run with an exit velocity of 113 mph in his double-A debut Tuesday night.
“I think everyone is excited about Jo and where he is,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “The growth we’ve seen from him in a couple of years is incredible. His athleticism is off the charts, and he’s doing some great things on the field.
“There are a lot of things a young player has to learn before he’s ready for that [big league] opportunity, and there’s no doubt Jo has made great strides. He’s been real dynamic with everything he’s doing on the baseball field right now.”