Shohei Ohtani goes from disaster to magnificent in Angels’ win over Rangers
But on Monday night, the Angels manager watched his two-way star take full advantage of a much-needed mulligan.
Making his third pitching start of the season at Globe Life Field against the Texas Rangers, Ohtani suffered the equivalent of a snap hook off the opening tee. In the first seven batters of the game, he issued two walks and a hit-by-pitch, yielded a three-run home run on a cutter he left in the zone and threw strikes on only six of 24 pitches as four runs crossed the plate.
Pitching coach Matt Wise was forced to visit the mound. The Angels bullpen began to stir. After getting only one out, his outing was on the brink of disaster.
Then, everything changed.
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Ohtani escaped the frame without allowing another run. Playing both ways for the second time in his Major League Baseball career, he helped his offense pull even the next half-inning, lining a two-run double to right before later racing home to tie the score.
When he returned to the mound in the second, he felt he’d been given a “fresh start,” he said through his interpreter. “I treated it like it was a brand-new ballgame.”
And from then on, Ohtani produced some of his most dominant stuff yet, silencing the Rangers the rest of the way in the Angels’ eventual 9-4 win.
“If you weren’t entertained by watching him tonight,” Maddon said, “you can’t be entertained by watching a game of baseball.”
Ohtani finished his five-inning outing retiring 14 of his last 15 batters, including nine via strikeout. Of his final 51 pitches, only 17 missed the zone. He reestablished control of his high-90s-mph fastball, regained the feel for his devastating splitter and rang up a couple of batters with knee-buckling sliders.
He was credited with his first victory as a pitcher since May 20, 2018.
“I’m very happy for the team victory,” Ohtani said. “The guys scored a lot of runs for me, gave me a lot of support, which led to a lot of confidence.”
Indeed, it wasn’t a solo effort.
Mike Trout went four for five with two RBIs in his first game since Thursday, returning from an elbow contusion to raise his batting average to .426 and his on-base-plus-slugging percentage to an MLB-best 1.359.
Justin Upton and Albert Pujols hit back-to-back home runs in the third, breaking what was then a 4-4 tie. Jared Walsh had three hits and two RBIs. José Iglesias tacked on a solo shot in the seventh.
All nine starters for the Angels (11-10) reached base safely and only Anthony Rendon failed to contribute to their season-high total of 16 hits, playing his first game in more than two weeks after being activated from the injured list earlier in the afternoon.
Ohtani helped himself plenty too. In the top of the first, he drew a walk before and later scored after sliding home ahead of a throw to the plate. His second-inning double left the bat with a game-high exit velocity of 113.8 mph, leading to his team-best 17th and 18th RBIs of the season. And in the sixth, he scored the last of his three runs after directing a leadoff bunt down the third-base line.
Highlights from the Angels’ 9-4 win over the Texas Rangers on Monday.
Maddon could sense the rest of the lineup feeding off Ohtani’s energy.
“They appreciate what he’s doing,” Maddon said. “These are accomplished major league players that either play on the field as a position player, or as a pitcher. Watching him do both, they understand how difficult that is.”
Ohtani was removed from the game after only 75 pitches in part to protect against a minor blister developing on his right, middle finger. Both he and Maddon said they weren’t concerned about this new “hot spot,” noting it is in a different area than the blister Ohtani battled earlier this month.
“It’s very small,” Ohtani said. “I felt like I could go one more inning.”
Instead, Ohtani watched from the side as the bullpen finished off the game without surrendering another run. He even sneaked back to the clubhouse for extra training as the final out was recorded.
“He never panicked,” Maddon said. “When things were going poorly, his demeanor didn’t change. His resolve didn’t change. He knew he had to make an adjustment.”
Shohei Ohtani’s tiebreaking solo home run in the eighth inning pushed the Angels to a 4-2 win over the Houston Astros on Sunday.
Maddon said he was never on the verge of removing Ohtani during the first inning, in part because of the complications it would have created given the fact the Angels didn’t have a designated hitter, but also as a sign of the confidence in the 26-year-old right-hander.
“He’ll find his groove and then he’ll get better as the game progresses,” Maddon said, attributing some of Ohtani’s early-game struggles to the fact he has hardly pitched the previous two seasons because of injuries.
“He’ll learn how to get that even earlier,” Maddon added. “But I love the way he made the adjustment.”
One tweak that was different on Monday: Ohtani didn’t shy away from his fastball while searching for his command, instead continuing to throw the heater until it went where he wanted.
“My command from the second inning on was pretty good,” Ohtani said. “I just need to continue and build off of that.”
That set up his secondary pitches. Five times, he got a called third strike on either a splitter or slider. During one stretch between the third and fifth innings, he recorded strikeouts in five straight at-bats.
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Ohtani also racked up several superlatives in what was another historic two-way display, becoming the first American League pitcher to have two or more hits and three or more runs in a game since 1971, and the first player since Babe Ruth in 1921 to make a pitching start while also leading the major leagues in home runs (Ohtani was tied for the MLB lead with seven entering the day).
“He came here for a reason, and he’s shown the reason why,” Maddon said of Ohtani’s dual exploits. “What he’s done offensively — home runs, power, clutch hits, the double down the right-field line. And then pitching at such a high level, 96 to 98 [mph fastballs] with a wipeout splitter … If he continues to gain feel and command of his fastball, it’s going to be very difficult to hit that pitch.”
Earlier in the day, Maddon had laughed when asked if he knew of anything that Ohtani wasn’t good at doing.
“I haven’t found that out yet,” he said, adding: “I’d like to see him hit a golf ball one of these days; he’s got the perfect swing for it. Probably could shoot a basketball, three-point dude … Probably would be a great wide receiver too.”
By the end of Monday night, Ohtani proved capable of salvaging a shaky outing as well, turning what started out as one of his worst games of the season into one of his best.
“When it wasn’t going well, he was the same cat,” Maddon said. “And he put it back together.”
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