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June's greatest Sho: A look back at Ohtani's best month in the majors

By AP

Published : July 2, 2023 - 09:55

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Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels hits a home run against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the sixth inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on Friday. (Getty Images-AFP) Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels hits a home run against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the sixth inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on Friday. (Getty Images-AFP)

ANAHEIM, California -- Shohei Ohtani’s walkup music most of last season was the theme to “The Greatest Showman.”

After the Los Angeles Angels star’s June, he should consider returning to it.

The Japanese two-way phenom has amazed fans, teammates and opponents since coming to the majors in 2018. June, though was “The Greatest Sho” at the plate.

“I’m in a good spot right now,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara when asked if he was pitching and hitting at his best. “Hitting-wise, I feel like it is up there for sure.”

Ohtani hit 15 home runs, the most in a month in Angels history. He became the first player in 10 years to reach 30 homers before July 1.

Ohtani reached that milestone and tied the AL record for most homers in June with a majestic 493-foot drive in Friday night’s loss to Arizona. Mike Trout, who was on the on-deck circle, did a double take when he heard it coming off the bat.

The power numbers, though, are only part of the story of a dominant month. Ohtani's .394 average, 41 hits, and 29 RBIs are his best in any month.

There was only one time in 27 games where Ohtani did not reach base, and he had hits in all but two.

His .952 slugging percentage in June was the third-highest in MLB history, surpassed only by Babe Ruth in 1920 and ’21. His 1.444 OPS is the highest since Lou Gehrig had a 1.470 in 1936.

Besides vaulting into the major league lead in homers, Ohtani is tied in RBIs with 67. He raised his average 41 points to .310.

Ohtani goes into July with an eight-game hitting streak that includes a two-homer performance on June 27 against the Chicago White Sox. He becomes the first AL starting pitcher in nearly 60 years to go deep twice and strike out at least 10 in the same game.

“Maybe for three or four days, you might think there’s a hole, but he’s figured out how to get that ball and drive it,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said.

Ohtani has a .235 average on pitches outside the strike zone, including six home runs. He had eight homers and a .170 out-of-zone average in his first five seasons.

“He’s the most focused and routine-oriented person I have seen, but he’s always searching to get better. He was having trouble (on outside pitches), but he is understanding and studying what pitchers are doing to him,” manager Phil Nevin said. “He’s had some pretty good pitches on the outer part of the plate and has gone with it the other way.

“He wows you every day. He’s such a talent and fun to watch.”

Colorado’s Kyle Freeland knows firsthand about Ohtani’s improvements out of the zone. During the fifth inning on June 23, Ohtani hit a changeup from the left-hander at least three baseballs off the plate and to the inside for a solo shot to right-center.

“There’s only one human being on this planet that has any business swinging at that pitch. And that’s him,” Freeland said after the game.

Arizona’s Tommy Henry, who fell behind 1-0 when Ohtani hammered a hanging slider in the sixth inning Friday, said Ohtani is the one player above all that a pitcher does not want to fall behind against.

“You know how aggressive he is, so it’s easier to pitch to a person of that caliber at 0-1 vs. 1-0 for sure,” Henry said. “Heading into those types of at-bats though, I’ve just got to bring my best stuff and put together a good sequence. I’m a competitor here too. I’m not going to try and balloon this up in my head leading up to the at-bat.”

After struggling for six weeks on the mound, Ohtani appears to have rediscovered his early form of a 3-0 record and 0.64 ERA in his first five starts. The right-hander has gone 2-1 with a 1.86 ERA with only one home run allowed. He had given up 11 during an eight-start stretch that saw him post a 5.88 ERA.

“He’s some things mechanically along with pitch mixing and game planning. Everything he’s doing right now is in sync,” Nevin said.

Through 16 starts, Ohtani is 7-3 with a 3.02 ERA. He leads the majors in opposing batting average (.180) and third in strikeouts (127).

According to FanDuel Sportsbook, Ohtani’s odds are -1450, which means someone betting $145 would win only $10. Texas’ Corey Seager is the closest to Ohtani at +350 — a $3500 payoff for someone betting $100. Or there are 7-1 odds if someone elected to bet the field against Ohtani.

Ohtani and the Angels hope he can continue his dominance and make the playoffs for the first time since 2014. The Angels go into July with a three-game losing streak and have seven of their last 10. However, they are 44-40 and only two games out of a wild card spot.

“You can see there’s an extra little bit extra right now. He wants to win,” Nevin said. “Everything is right in front of us, and I think he realizes that, and it’s bleeding into the room. You can tell how happy he is to be here and how things are going. It’s becoming infectious with the room.” (AP)