Shohei killer? Heim proving to be two-way star’s kryptonite

May 19th, 2022

ARLINGTON -- Shohei Ohtani is the reigning American League MVP, a generational player and an international superstar.

But in 2022, when facing the Rangers, catcher Jonah Heim has slowly but surely become Ohtani’s Achilles’ heel, especially after his 3-for-5 performance in Wednesday night’s 6-5, walk-off win over the Angels in 10 innings at Globe Life Field.

“[Heim] had a really good plan against him today, and he executed it,” said Rangers manager Chris Woodward. “I think he got a little bit lucky on a few of those and didn't hit them all that hard. The goal is to stay to left-center and stay inside the ball, not go to the pull side. … That was something he said. Jonah has been great, man. He's been really good for us all year. It's just consistent every day, every pitch, every at-bat. His quality has been probably our best.”

While Nathaniel Lowe’s two-run homer off closer Raisel Iglesias won the game in the end, it was Heim going toe-to-toe with one of the best pitchers in the league that put the Rangers in that position.

Heim’s three hits, all of which against Ohtani, matched his career high for a single game.

“That’s a good question,” Heim joked when asked how he's been so successful against Ohtani. “If I knew, then I would go up against everybody like that. I just go up there and try to be as calm as possible. I know [his pitches] come in extremely hard and it's tough to see, so I just try to slow myself down and see it. If it’s somewhere in the zone, I take some good swings.”

Heim’s RBI single in the fourth inning came off a 100 mph fastball, which is only the second time Ohtani has allowed a hit on a 100 mph pitch in his career. And his RBI single in the sixth tied the game at 2 and made it possible for the trio of Brad Miller, Kole Calhoun and Lowe to launch the homers that would eventually deliver Texas its victory.

After going 0-for-6 against Ohtani in 2021, Heim is now 5-for-5 with one grand slam and seven RBIs off him in two games this season.

“When that happens, of course the pitcher knows that and the hitter knows that, so there's more confidence on that side,” said Angels manager Joe Maddon. “Believe me, Shohei, he understands that and he's competing right there with it.”

The last time Heim faced off against Ohtani, a 10-5 Rangers win on April 14, Heim powered Texas with the first grand slam off the two-way superstar.

The way the hits came in Wednesday’s matchup between the two weren't as emphatic. While the grand slam was a hard liner that went 391 feet into the right-field stands, the three hits in the series finale registered exit velocities (in order) of 76.6 mph, 67.5 mph and 65.5 mph. The furthest was a 217-foot single in the fourth that scored Corey Seager from second base for the Rangers’ first run of the game.

But runs are runs, and hits are hits, no matter how far they go or how hard they’re hit.

“That's what we talked about in Spring Training,” Heim said. “It’s just about putting pressure on the defenses. I know I didn't hit it as hard as I usually could or do, but they're all knocks and they're RBIs and they're base hits. So I'll take them.”

The win secured a three-game sweep over the Angels, who entered the series tied with the Astros for the lead in the AL West. It was the Rangers’ first sweep of three or more games since June 25-27, 2021, against Kansas City. It’s also the first time the club has won four consecutive games in a homestand since moving to Globe Life Field in 2020.

More than anything, the sweep over the Angels showed that the Rangers, coming off two consecutive last-place finishes in the division, could shake things up.

“It’s great proof that they are winners on this team and winners in this clubhouse, both starters and on the bench,” Lowe said. “We’ve just got to remind ourselves to go out and do our job and good things are going to happen. …To be able to piece things together as a team was huge, because individual players don't win this game -- teams win this game. And that was a great team win.”