It took a once-in-a-century player from Japan to finally solve a pitcher who has owned this part of Southern California.
In a matter of hours Saturday, Shohei Ohtani went from the bullpen to the plate. The former was part of his pregame pitching-arm rehabilitation. The latter was to face Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander.
That would be Verlander and his scoreless streak at Angel Stadium, which reached 26 innings before Ohtani clubbed Verlander’s first offering over the center-field wall in the fourth inning.
It happened in an 8-3 loss that turned ugly late, but the Angels will take what they can get in a season in which Ohtani is one of the few dramas worth watching. His 14th home run, which also ended Verlander’s 18 overall scoreless-inning streak against the Angels, followed another step toward Ohtani’s pitching return.
Ohtani threw a 21-pitch bullpen session, all fastballs, before the game and indicated through an interpreter that it was progress.
“I can’t tell you exactly how close I am, but I am getting there,” Ohtani said.
Asked what the biggest improvement he sees with each bullpen session, he said, “It’s my body overall. It feels better every time I go out there.”
Those are all positive signs in Ohtani’s recovery from an ulnar collateral ligament strain that is being carefully monitored. Ohtani is scheduled for a simulated game early next week; it is unclear when he will pitch in a game again.
Ohtani remains a regular in the lineup, against right-handed pitchers, while he takes on incrementally increased pitching work that doesn’t seem to affect his hitting. He doubled off Verlander before his two-run home run, and he survived a scare in the eighth inning when he was hit by a pitch from Roberto Osuna.
Deck McGuire was then ejected for hitting Yuli Gurriel in the ninth, which prompted the ejection of manager Mike Scioscia. Scioscia and McGuire each said there was no intent.
“I was just trying to go in … to a guy who likes to dive over the plate and I missed down the middle,” McGuire said. “It’s unfortunate in that situation that [bench] warnings had been issued because there was no intent on my part.”
Houston manager A.J. Hinch said: “They pitch all of our guys inside. I didn’t think it was malicious.”
As far as Ohtani, he wants to get back to being a dual-threat phenom.
“I’m really looking forward to going back on the mound,” Ohtani said. “I was supposed to be pitching throughout the whole year, but I got hurt so I couldn’t do that, but I’m almost on track to do that.”
Ward in the bigs
When Taylor Ward hit his first career home run Aug. 18 in Texas, he got the time-honored silent treatment in the dugout.
“No one there to greet me,” Ward said.
When he hit a home run in his Angel Stadium debut Friday, he got the usual high-fives.
“It was like a normal home run,” Ward said. “They should have done it again, though.”
Though he’s far from a major league mainstay, Ward is an intriguing rookie to watch in the final weeks of the season. Saturday was only Ward’s 10th game with the Angels. Even the rest of the season probably won’t be a big enough sample size to judge his everyday capabilities. But the Angels can see why he’s a top-10 prospect in their system.
“He’s certainly not the finished product,” Scioscia said. “[But] Taylor Ward is going to continue to grow and hopefully you’re going to see, at some point, it’s just second nature for him to [use] his athleticism out there and use his experience to be a front-line third baseman.”
Ward is a former catcher who had not played third base until this season. He called the transition difficult at first, especially “emotionally,” and the growing pains showed Saturday with his two-base throwing error in the eighth.
Ward has to look only to his left at Andrelton Simmons as an example. That’s part of the ride he’s enjoying: Playing with great players on nights like Friday, with about 15 friends and family on hand. “Probably the most nervous I’ve been so far,” Ward said.