ANAHEIM -- For the rate at which two-way star Shohei Ohtani had been belting homers this season, a 14-game drought felt like a long time before he went deep again on Wednesday night.
Ohtani launched his MLB-leading 38th homer of the season, a two-run blast in the third inning, in the Halos’ 10-2 loss to the Blue Jays at Angel Stadium.
Ohtani sent a 1-2 slider from Toronto starter Alek Manoah to center field, marking his first homer since July 28. The ball came off Ohtani’s bat at 106.5 mph and traveled 413 feet, per Statcast.
"That's important to him,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “That's what he needed to do. I was even saying that in the dugout to [bench coach Mike Gallego] earlier. He needs to just grab one again and then he'll get that feel going, and he did. … But hopefully that'll get him going in the right direction. We still need to get some more guys going as well, but I thought he did look better.”
Ohtani is one shy of the record for the most hit in a single season by a Halos left-handed batter. Reggie Jackson belted 39 home runs for the Angels in 1982.
Since the All-Star break, Ohtani has had a dip in home runs. He’s hit five homers in 81 at-bats to begin the second half, and he hadn’t driven in a run since July 31 until Wednesday. Ohtani was 3-for-27 in 10 games in August before his 1-for-3 showing.
During Ohtani’s homerless stretch, Maddon said the Japanese star’s confidence never wavered.
“[Ohtani] doesn't cower easily, he doesn't get upset easily,” Maddon said. “He is pretty strong-willed. He knew what was going on. He knows since the break, having everybody hurt, it was going to be more difficult.”
Ohtani batted in the leadoff spot for the second straight game and for the sixth time this season. The move up in the order came as Maddon looked for a way to keep teams from pitching around Ohtani.
Ohtani is 5-for-19 when batting out of the No. 1 hole this season. He's spent most of the year hitting second (94 of his 101 starts in the lineup). He had only started in the leadoff spot once in his career prior to 2021.
Maddon said that with All-Star first baseman Jared Walsh coming off the injured list on Wednesday, Ohtani will likely remain at the top of the order moving forward.
“That's why up until when Jared got hurt, I was hitting two lefties back-to-back, just to try to force them to pitch to [Ohtani] a bit,” Maddon said. “That's part of baseball. Some people don't agree with that, but who you hit behind as a certain hitter does matter. So he's been having to fight that, also without a complaint.
“So let's just see if we get this thing straightened out for him behind him. I like what he's doing in the leadoff hole, probably stay with that for a little bit, and really looking forward to other guys getting well, too.”
In 25 games since the All-Star break, Ohtani has drawn 16 walks, three of which have been intentional.
Regardless of where Ohtani bats in the lineup, his toolset of power and speed can always impact the game, which Maddon said is the reasoning behind the move.
“My logic is that by having him leadoff, they're going to be more apt to want to pitch to him,” Maddon said. “I just want him to go out there and play and possibly set the table for us if they choose not to pitch. Accept your walk, and then we have a really good baserunner. That's it. There's a lot of moving parts going on there. ... I thought he looked really good tonight.”