MINNEAPOLIS -- Even after Shohei Ohtani's Tommy John surgery on Oct. 1, the Angels were confident they would be getting plenty of power from him this season once he returned. But they have found a surprising source of home runs this season in Tommy La Stella, and both Ohtani and
MINNEAPOLIS -- Even after Shohei Ohtani's Tommy John surgery on Oct. 1, the Angels were confident they would be getting plenty of power from him this season once he returned. But they have found a surprising source of home runs this season in Tommy La Stella, and both Ohtani and La Stella came up big on Monday.
Ohtani connected on his first blast of the season, and La Stella smacked a go-ahead solo shot in the sixth inning in a 5-4 win over the Twins in the series opener at Target Field. The long balls helped the Angels to their fifth victory over their last seven games.
Ohtani, who made his return from Tommy John surgery a week ago as the club’s regular designated hitter, was 4-for-21 with no extra-base hits before launching a two-run shot on a 3-1 fastball from right-hander Jose Berrios in the third. The homer gave the Angels a 3-2 lead and scored Mike Trout, who reached on a single that scored La Stella because of an error by right fielder Marwin Gonzalez.
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“I was seeing the ball really well the whole time, but my timing was just a little off, and the way I was making contact, the angle was a little off,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “But I’ve been hitting the ball in the air recently, and I think it showed today that I’m improving.”
The homer was the 23rd of Ohtani's career and his first since Sept. 26, 2018. The reigning American League Rookie of the Year hit 22 homers last season in 104 games. The ball left his bat at 111.7 mph and traveled a projected 429 feet, per Statcast. He went 2-for-3 with two walks on the night.
“We all know the power is there, and that was a no-doubter,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “You don’t see a lot of balls go the other way from many people that way.”
Though the Angels have come to expect that kind of power from Ohtani, La Stella has been a pleasant surprise this season. He came into the season with 10 career homers in 396 games over five seasons with the Braves and Cubs, but he has already matched that total with 10 homers in 36 games this year.
“What we heard is he gives you a professional at-bat, but not a lot of power,” Ausmus said. “What we’ve seen is a professional at-bat, he gets his hits, and he has hit homers.”
La Stella jumped all over a 1-0 curveball from Berrios that caught too much of the plate to give the Angels a one-run lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Berrios was uncharacteristically off his game, allowing a career-high 12 hits and five runs over 5 2/3 innings. It was also the first opposite-field homer of La Stella’s career.
"I just reacted to it,” La Stella said of the curveball. “He has such good stuff. I just wanted to make sure I got him on the plate. I definitely didn't want to expand the zone against a guy like that. I think it caught a decent part of the plate."
Skaggs hurt by the long ball
While the Angels were helped by the homers from Ohtani and La Stella, lefty Tyler Skaggs gave up two of his own. He served up a two-run homer to Jorge Polanco in the first inning but settled down until the fifth. He was one out away from getting through five innings with a 4-2 lead, but he gave up a two-run shot to Gonzalez on his 100th pitch of the night that tied the score. But he got through the fifth and picked up the win after La Stella’s blast in the sixth.
Relievers Justin Anderson, Ty Buttrey and Hansel Robles combined to throw four scoreless innings, with Buttrey throwing two frames and Robles picking up his fourth save of the year.
“Mechanically, I felt pretty sound today,” Skaggs said. “Just kind of leaving some pitches middle. Luckily, our offense and our bullpen is our strength right now. I think as a starting staff, we need to pick it up, and we're going to."
Rhett Bollinger covers the Angels for MLB.com. He previously covered the Twins from 2011-18. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.