ANAHEIM -- After two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani turned in his worst start of the year against the Yankees on Wednesday, the Angels decided to mix it up and have Max Stassi catch Ohtani against the Red Sox on Wednesday, marking just the second time he’s caught him this season.
It worked out to perfection, as Ohtani bounced back with a terrific showing against the Red Sox, throwing seven strong innings in a 5-3 win at Angel Stadium. He also helped his own cause with an RBI double in the first, while Stassi went 3-for-4 and was a triple shy of the cycle to pace the offense along with David Fletcher, who went 4-for-4 to extend his hitting streak to 20 games.
"They did very well together," Angels manager Joe Maddon said. "Their creativity was outstanding. And like I said [pregame], I thought Stassi matched up well offensively with [Nathan] Eovaldi. It worked out pretty good and they had a nice little first dance."
Ohtani, who became the first player to ever be selected to the All-Star Game as both a pitcher and a hitter on Sunday, allowed two runs on four hits and notably didn’t walk a batter while striking out four. It was a much different showing than his last outing that saw him fail to get out of the first inning in New York. He walked four and hit a batter in that outing and was charged with seven runs while recording just two outs.
Ohtani, though, has fared much better at Angel Stadium this season, posting a 1.87 ERA in eight home starts compared to a 6.46 ERA in five road starts. He saw his ERA on the season improve to 3.49 in 13 outings, while he still leads the Majors with 31 homers as a batter.
"I felt like I had good rhythm and good mechanics compared to my last outing," Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “I'm really used to the Angel Stadium mound. It's easy for me to keep my mechanics fairly steady. The road mounds are a little different in every ballpark, so it's an adjustment I need to make."
But Ohtani did run into some trouble in the first, allowing a leadoff double to Kiké Hernandez, who later came around to score on a sacrifice fly from J.D. Martinez. The lead didn’t last long for the Red Sox, however, as Ohtani tied the game with an RBI double off Eovaldi in the bottom half of the frame and scored on a two-run homer from Stassi.
Ohtani settled in on the mound from there and didn’t allow another run until the sixth, after Connor Wong led off the frame with a double and Martinez drove him in with an RBI single. Ohtani escaped the inning with the help of center fielder Juan Lagares, who made an incredible leaping catch at the wall in right-center field to rob Xander Bogaerts of what would’ve been a go-ahead two-run blast.
“That was a huge play,” Ohtani said. “I think that play pretty much made the outcome of the game."
The Angels used the momentum from that catch to their advantage in the bottom of the inning, scoring two insurance runs after Phil Gosselin doubled and Stassi singled to begin the frame. José Iglesias plated a run on an RBI groundout, while Fletcher recorded his fourth hit with an RBI infield single to load the bases for Ohtani with two outs. But Ohtani struck out to end the inning, finishing his night at the plate 1-for-4.
"The RBI in the first inning was great but I had a chance with two outs and the bases loaded,” Ohtani said. “I could've put the game away but I failed, so that's one of my regrets."
He was efficient on the hill -- he threw 89 pitches before being lifted for reliever Mike Mayers in the eighth -- and varied the speed of his pitches to fool Boston’s hitters. His fastball reached as high as 98.5 mph, while he mixed in slow curveballs that averaged around 70 mph.
"He just pitched,” Maddon said. “He didn't try to overthrow anything. He had a really good delivery going from the first hitter. He even dropped in a few of those uber-slow curveballs. His fastball command was better and the slider came into play. He pitched today in the classic sense."
His outing also impressed Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who noted that Ohtani has continued to evolve as a pitcher since his Rookie of the Year campaign in ‘18 and his subsequent Tommy John surgery.
"He’s a different pitcher than in ’18,” Cora said. “In '18 when we came here, his stuff was electric. Today, yeah, he threw hard, all that, but he pitched today. You see him out there and he knows what he’s doing. It’s amazing what he’s doing. Unreal."
His outing was his final one before the All-Star break and he’s set to participate in the Home Run Derby on Monday, while pulling double-duty in the All-Star Game on Tuesday.
"You have to go back to Mr. Ruth to draw any comparisons,” Maddon said. “That just screams what this is all about. We all romanticize what it would have been like to watch Babe Ruth play. Now we're living it. So don't underestimate what we're seeing."