How Angels’ Shohei Ohtani has reached the next level as a pitcher

PHOENIX — In Shohei Ohtani’s first start of the season, he wowed the baseball world by throwing nine pitches at 100 mph, peaking at 101.1 mph.

He’s hasn’t cracked 100 since.

Instead, he’s been doing something even more important.

He’s pitching.

Ohtani, who makes his ninth start of the season on Friday against the Arizona Diamondbacks, has undergone a transformation in the first two months of the season.

Dig a little deeper than his impressive 2.76 ERA or 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings, and you see that Ohtani made some dramatic improvements over the past four starts that have taken him to the next level as a big league pitcher.

“His feel for the baseball right now is really, really strong,” pitching coach Matt Wise said. “We just have to continue to get him out there so he gets those reps.”

In Ohtani’s first four games, he averaged 96.8 mph with his fastball. He also walked an unsightly 9.2 hitters per nine innings. He threw just 40.2 percent of his pitches in the strike zone. The major league average is 49.2 percent.

Since then, the fastball is down to 94.4 mph, but he’s cut the walks to 2.7 per nine innings, including the first walk-free game of his 20-start career last week. He’s thrown 48.0 percent of his pitches in the strike zone.

Ohtani conceded that he dialed back the velocity after developing a blister in his first start,…

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