Halos walk off Twins after Ohtani's 11-K start
Phenom sets Angels record with 43 strikeouts through 6 outings
ANAHEIM -- Shohei Ohtani didn't come away with the win, but his brilliant effort didn't go for naught, as Zack Cozart delivered a walk-off single to lift the Angels to a 2-1 win over the Twins in Sunday afternoon's series finale at Angel Stadium.
With the game tied, 1-1, in the bottom of the ninth, Chris Young reached on a hit-by-pitch, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Martin Maldonado and scored the winning run on Cozart's single to left field off Twins reliever Zach Duke. The Angels (24-16) secured a split of the four-game series and improved to 8-4 in May with the win.
"We had two tough games, but the group of guys in there know to turn the page," manager Mike Scioscia said. "We saw two really good arms out there, but fortunately for us, we got through that. It was a good game. Our guys grinded it out."
The Angels' rally ensured that they didn't waste a gem from Ohtani, who struck out 11 over 6 1/3 innings. Ohtani carried a shutout into the seventh inning, but he departed after issuing a one-out walk to Logan Morrison. Cam Bedrosian was summoned to relieve Ohtani with the Angels clinging to a 1-0 lead, but he gave up a single to Robbie Grossman to put runners on the corners for the Twins. Joe Mauer then tied the game with a pinch-hit RBI single, leaving Ohtani with a no-decision.
He was charged with one run on three singles and two walks while throwing 103 pitches in his first start at home since April 17. He induced 20 swinging strikes -- eight with his slider -- while also locating his upper-90s fastball and nasty splitter, skillfully overpowering the Twins' lineup for much of the afternoon.
Ohtani was so impressive that Scioscia felt the need to correct a reporter who described the start as "solid" during his postgame news conference.
"That was a pretty phenomenal start, not a solid start," Scioscia said. "That was phenomenal. His stuff is electric. I think just his presence in a tight ballgame was what Shohei is about. He's going to go out there and make pitches. He used all his pitches and probably had another handful in his back pocket, but that was a stretch for him to go out there for any more this afternoon."
Ohtani now has 43 strikeouts, setting an Angels record through a pitcher's first six games. The previous mark had been 38, set by Bo Belinsky in 1962. The 23-year-old two-way phenom has a 3.58 ERA over 32 2/3 innings as a pitcher and has batted .348 with a 1.044 OPS with five home runs and 16 RBIs this season.
"He was really good," said Morrison, who reached base three times against Ohtani. "He's only 23 years old and is going to get better. I think he's doing something that nobody has probably ever done, and it might be a long time before you see it again. There's another guy in that clubhouse who is a really good player, but to me, with what [Ohtani] does on the mound and with the bat, he's probably the best player in the world."
James Dozier led off the game by bouncing a grounder down the third-base line that got past Cozart, though Andrelton Simmons alertly corralled the ball and fired to Ian Kinsler to hold Dozier to a single. Ohtani then induced a potential double-play ball from Max Kepler, but Kinsler bobbled the grounder and managed to only get the out at first base. Still, Ohtani subsequently struck out Eduardo Escobar swinging and coaxed a groundout from Eddie Rosario to leave Dozier stranded.
Ohtani faced little trouble the rest of the way. He retired 12 of the next 14 batters he faced -- allowing only a pair of singles to Morrison -- and struck out the side twice. In the third, Ohtani spotted a 98.5 mph fastball on the outside corner for a called third strike against Bobby Wilson. He then whiffed Dozier on a splitter before getting Kepler to flail at a curveball, completing an efficient 12-pitch inning.
"I think that's one of my biggest strengths, being able to mix in my four pitches and try to keep the hitters off balance," Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. "Of course, it depends on which team and which batter I'm facing. I study the reports pregame, and try to mix in pitches and try to keep them off balance."
Ohtani took the mound in the sixth with a 1-0 lead after Maldonado doubled and scored on a forceout by Justin Upton, but the command wasn't as crisp. Ohtani issued a leadoff walk to Dozier, who advanced to second on a wild pitch to give the Twins their first runner in scoring position since the first inning.
Kepler followed by flying out to right field, and Kole Calhoun made a strong throw back into the infield to hold Dozier at second. After a groundout by Escobar, Ohtani struck out Rosario swinging on a diving splitter to emerge unscathed, pumping his chest in an outward show of emotion as he walked off the field.
Despite Ohtani's tremendous success, the Angels have been conservative with his workload and have kept him on a once-a-week pitching schedule. The Angels hope that he'll eventually be able to pitch every sixth day instead of every seventh day, but they don't see that schedule change as imminent.
"In the big picture of where I think we will need to be with our rotation, it's going to be very helpful if he can come back and pitch on that sixth day," Scioscia said before the game. "He feels good, but it's something we certainly don't want to do prematurely. We'll look at some things and see when it's a possibility."
Ohtani said he's been bouncing back well and is open to pitching on shorter rest at some point this season.
"My body feels great physically," Ohtani said. "Everything's going great. The six days' rest I'm getting right now, I'm getting used to the rhythm and flow of that, but if there's a time that comes where I need to go on five days' rest, then I'll have to make some adjustments. Once again, that's not up to me. It's going to be up to the team. I just have to wait for them to make that decision."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Angels snap Romero's scoreless streak: The Angels were blanked through the first four innings by Twins rookie Fernando Romero before scratching a run across in the fifth. Maldonado, who entered Sunday batting .545 (12-for-22) in May, led off the inning with a double, advanced to third on Cozart's single and scored after Upton beat out a potential double-play grounder to give the Angels a 1-0 lead. The run snapped Romero's streak of 15 2/3 scoreless innings to start his career.
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Ehire Adrianza tried to score from first on Grossman's double into the right-center field gap in the top of the ninth, but he was thrown out at the plate on a great relay throw by the Angels. Michael Trout fielded the ball and threw in to Kinsler, who fired to Maldonado in time to nab Adrianza and keep the score tied, 1-1. The Twins challenged the ruling, but the call was confirmed following a replay review.
"You just try to put the best throw on the bag you can and hope for the best," Kinsler said.
Added Scioscia: "That's a huge play, Adrianza could really run and just a clean relay. 'Kins' got rid of it quickly -- a little bit to the first-base side of the plate -- but Martin did a textbook of how to get the ball back to the other side of the plate and made a great tag."
Keynan Middleton came in to pitch the eighth and retired the first two batters, but Scioscia and trainer Adam Nevala then came out to the mound to check on him after he threw a 93 mph fastball high to Rosario. Middleton, who returned from the disabled list on Thursday after dealing with right elbow inflammation, exited the game with discomfort in the elbow and was replaced by Jim Johnson. Middleton will undergo an MRI on Monday, according to Scioscia. More >>
Ohtani, who racked up a career-high 12 strikeouts in his second start of the season against the A's on April 8, is the fourth Angels rookie to record at least 10 strikeouts as a pitcher in multiple outings, joining Frank Tanana (1974), Belinsky (1962) and Ken McBride (1961).
HE SAID IT
"When he's on the mound, you forget that he's a hitter. You forget that he's our five-hole guy that can smash homers. And when he's jogging around the bases after a home run, you kind of forget that he's one of our best pitchers. It's a unique situation, and he's obviously been extremely successful. It's fun to watch." -- Kinsler, on Ohtani
The Angels will continue their 11-game homestand by opening a three-game set against the Astros on Monday at 7:07 p.m. PT at Angel Stadium. Left-hander Andrew Heaney (1-2, 4.78 ERA) will square off with Houston right-hander Lance McCullers (5-1, 3.72) in the series opener. After allowing 11 runs over 9 1/3 innings in his first two starts of the season, Heaney has a 2.12 ERA over his past three outings. He is set to face the Astros for the first time since Sept. 13, 2015.