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Ohtani's first homer can't pick up bullpen

@RhettBollinger
July 30, 2020

Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani has been showing signs of shaking his early season slump and connected on a three-run blast off Mariners right-hander Justin Dunn for his first homer of the season on Wednesday night at Angel Stadium in Anaheim. It was one of three homers for the Angels,

Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani has been showing signs of shaking his early season slump and connected on a three-run blast off Mariners right-hander Justin Dunn for his first homer of the season on Wednesday night at Angel Stadium in Anaheim. It was one of three homers for the Angels, including Justin Upton's 300th, but it wasn't enough with the bullpen struggling in a 10-7 loss that dropped the Angels to 2-4 on the year.

Ohtani entered the game 2-for-14 on the season, but he smacked a double with an exit velocity of 111.9 mph in the sixth inning on Tuesday, which showed his timing was coming around. He lined out in the first inning off Dunn on Wednesday on a shot with an exit velocity of 107.4 mph, per Statcast.

Box score

Ohtani remained locked in his next at-bat in the fourth inning despite falling behind 0-2 against Dunn. The Mariners rookie threw an 81-mph curveball that was both low and inside -- only 1.2 feet off the ground -- but Ohtani was able to golf it into the right-field seats for a three-run shot to give the Angels a 3-1 lead. It left the bat at 101 mph and was projected by Statcast to travel 402 feet. It was the 41st homer of Ohtani's career, as he hit 22 in '18 and 18 last year.

“He just seems to be in better balance overall,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “The home run he hit was kind of a funky swing from us. He went down on a low and inside pitch and kind of flipped it out. And it was good to see him be able to maintain his balance and use his hands.”

Ohtani will remain in the lineup on Thursday and Friday ahead of his start on the mound against the Astros on Sunday. Ohtani doesn’t typically serve as designated hitter the day before or after his starts on the mound, although he did start at DH on Monday after throwing only 30 pitches in his debut without recording an out on Sunday.

Maddon has stressed the importance of Ohtani regaining his confidence after a slow start at the plate and on the mound, and the three-run homer could get Ohtani back on track.

“It's gonna continue on that path,” Maddon said. “He's going to get a feel for what he's doing in the batter's box, and his confidence is going to come up and then start doing what everybody expects him to do so. He's got a couple more games to hit before he pitches, and we're trying to get him trending in the right direction.”

Brian Goodwin also homered for the Angels, smacking a solo shot in the fifth off lefty Nick Margevicius to give the Angels a 4-1 lead. Upton joined the homer parade with a solo blast off Bryan Shaw in the sixth, becoming the ninth active player to reach the 300-homers plateau. Four batters later, Goodwin gave the Angels the lead with a two-run double off Shaw.

But the lead was short-lived, as the bullpen struggled throughout the night. Left-handed starter Andrew Heaney was lifted after four-plus innings and 64 pitches after a leadoff walk in the fifth, and the floodgates were open after that. Mike Mayers gave up four runs (one charged to Heaney) and four hits in the inning, including a three-run homer to Dylan Moore.

Maddon, though, defended his decision, as Heaney’s fastball did drop from about 91-92 mph to 88-89 mph in the sixth.

“It just looked like he lost his rhythm and his velocity was coming down,” Maddon said. “It really made all the sense in the world to do that. Our guys just had a tough night”

Heaney, however, was surprised to be removed from the game and said he plans to talk to Maddon about it on Thursday.

“I felt a lot more put together tonight than I did in Oakland, a little better with all my pitches,” Heaney said. “I felt fine. Was a little surprised to see Joe making his way out.”

Jacob Barnes also struggled in the seventh, loading the bases with nobody out, and Ty Buttrey allowed inherited runners to score on an RBI groundout and a sacrifice fly. Buttrey came back out for the eighth and exited with two outs and a runner on. Ryan Buchter replaced him and also scuffled, giving up a two-run single to J.P. Crawford with two strikes and two outs.

"Mayers and Barnes, we have a lot of faith in and anticipate a better result," Maddon said. "We just can't pile on guys like that if they've had a bad night."

Rhett Bollinger covers the Angels for MLB.com. He previously covered the Twins from 2011-18. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.