SEATTLE -- If the version of Shohei Ohtani that took the field Wednesday afternoon at T-Mobile Park was what baseball observers would consider less than vintage, the Angels should be just fine this season.
Ohtani earned the victory on the mound in his team’s 4-3 road series clincher against the Mariners with six innings, and he contributed an RBI single that ended up being the deciding run in the game.
Of course, when Ohtani is the subject, a pitching start without double-digit strikeouts and a mammoth home run or two at the plate can sometimes seem a tad underwhelming. But on Wednesday, this new “ordinary” worked very well for the Angels, who took two of three from their AL West rival and now carry a 4-2 record into an off-day and then their home opener in Anaheim on Friday.
“I love it,” said rookie catcher Logan O'Hoppe, who hit a two-run home run in the second inning. “And I think we're capable of maintaining this. It's not like we're having big wins where it's not a realistic thing to maintain. We’ve got a deep lineup, and we're capable of doing a lot. I think we're going to do some good stuff going forward, and I'm excited to be part of it.”
As always, Ohtani did a little bit of everything, but he stretched that definition on Wednesday with some uncharacteristic command issues that he had to overcome.
In the first inning Ohtani threw 21 pitches. He walked the first two batters -- Julio Rodríguez and Ty France -- and gave up a run on a single by Eugenio Suárez. He threw 25 pitches in the second inning and 23 more in the third, an inning that included two hit batters.
“Locating my fastball [was the key],” Ohtani said through an interpreter. “When I was able to throw more fastballs mid-count for strikes, it made everything a lot easier.”
Fortunately for Ohtani, the Angels had a 2-1 lead at the time, courtesy of the second home run of O’Hoppe’s career, a two-run shot off Mariners starter Chris Flexen that caromed off the out-of-town scoreboard in left field.
That seemed to buoy Ohtani, who appeared to have made all the necessary self-corrections from that point. In the fourth through sixth innings, he faced the minimum while giving up only a single and striking out five. His final line will certainly do if you’re an Angels fan: six innings, three hits, one run, four walks, eight strikeouts, 111 pitches, 64 strikes, and his first “W” of 2023.
“He's been in the league long enough now where he knows what he's doing better than anybody,” O’Hoppe said. “So I kind of leaned on him to do what he was capable of doing and that he would get himself out of it, which he did. And that was pretty impressive.”
As a side note, Ohtani accrued pitch-timer violations as a pitcher and as a hitter, which cost him a ball and a strike, respectively. The former happened while facing Mariners catcher Cal Raleigh in the first inning, the latter while taking a bit too much time to get in the batter’s box against Seattle reliever Matt Brash in the sixth.
Angels manager Phil Nevin said discussions with home-plate umpire Pat Hoberg about the new rules were productive and that Ohtani learned something from it.
Meanwhile, Ohtani contributed in the bottom of the seventh from the batter’s box.
After Gio Urshela led off with a double against Seattle reliever Diego Castillo, Luis Rengifo’s groundout pushed Urshela to third. With two out, Taylor Ward worked a walk, leading Mariners manager Scott Servais to bring in flame-throwing reliever Andrés Muñoz to pitch to the Angels’ other perennial MVP candidate, Mike Trout.
Trout did what he had to, cueing a 67.5 mph infield single that scored Urshela. Ohtani followed with a “blast” of his own, punching a grounder past third base for a 68.2 mph single that gave the Angels their much-needed fourth run.
The Mariners scratched out a run apiece against Angels relievers Matt Moore and Jimmy Herget, but José Quijada slammed the door on Seattle in the ninth with a scoreless ninth.
“We did a good job,” Nevin said. “We put the ball in play. And when you put the ball in play, sometimes something happens. I don’t really like that term, so to speak, but sometimes it’s good.”