MINNEAPOLIS -- After starting off the second half of the season in a slump by his standards, two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani has started to turn things around at the plate.
After doubling twice on Saturday, Ohtani smacked his Major League-leading 35th homer of the year on Sunday in a 6-2 win against the Twins in the series finale at Target Field. Ohtani’s solo blast gave the Angels the lead and came off lefty reliever Danny Coulombe, who was brought in to face him with one out in the sixth.
“He just always responds,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “He likes the spotlight, he likes the big moment and I'm looking forward to many more of those."
Ohtani's resurgence has come after he was held out of the lineup on Friday with lefty J.A. Happ on the mound for Minnesota. He was mired in a bit of a funk, hitting .167 (4-for-24) with a homer, a double and 14 strikeouts over his last six games.
But he bounced back with his two doubles in Saturday's 2-1 win and went 2-for-3 with the homer and an intentional walk on Sunday. He’s also scheduled to make his 15th start of the season on Monday against the Rockies at Angel Stadium and is expected to be in the lineup as well. Ohtani is 4-1 with a 3.21 ERA and 95 strikeouts in 73 innings this season, including a 1.87 ERA in eight home starts.
"He's so engaged right now," Maddon said. "I can't just beat him into the ground. He's pitching tomorrow, he's played all weekend and it's been hot. But I would believe that after we gave him the day off he'd be ready to roll and do both tomorrow. But I'll check with him."
His homer was absolutely crushed onto Target Plaza beyond the right-field seats and came on a 1-0 slider over the heart of the plate. It had an exit velocity of 112.6 mph and went a projected 414 feet, per Statcast.
It was Ohtani's 12th homer this season against a lefty, and he now incredibly has a higher slugging percentage against southpaws than right-handers. His 12 homers against lefties ranks second in the Majors among left-handed hitters, trailing only Matt Olson's 15.
"He told me the other day, 'I'm seeing lefties really good right now,'" Maddon said. "It was the day I gave him off."
He also singled in the first against right-hander Bailey Ober and was caught stealing second to end the inning. In the eighth, he came to the plate with two outs and a runner at third and was intentionally walked. Even Twins fans booed the move by manager Rocco Baldelli, as they wanted to see the two-way star hit.
"I was booing, too," Maddon said with a smile. "But it was the right move by Rocco."
He promptly stole second base without a throw for his 13th swipe of the year but was stranded with Justin Upton grounding out. It was Ohtani’s 10th career game with a homer and a stolen base.
He joins Mike Trout (34 times), Darin Erstad (14), Don Baylor (11), Vladimir Guerrero (10) as the Angels players to accomplish the feat 10 times.
"He's looking pretty frisky,” Maddon said. “It's good to see him running really well.”
Ohtani’s big day was backed by a strong showing from right-hander Jaime Barria, who gave up homers to the first two batters he faced before going seven innings to help the bullpen. Barria’s fastball was up compared to recent seasons -- he had never thrown harder than 95 mph in any of his previous 55 career appearances but topped that mark 11 times against the Twins -- and he could get the chance to stick in the rotation.
Catcher Max Stassi also fell just a double short of the cycle, picking up his first career triple in 742 plate appearances. It helped the Angels win the series and get back to .500 at 49-49.
"I thought Barria was awesome," Stassi said. "His fastball command was really good. And his velocity was a little bit up. His changeup was working, had a good slider. I thought he was outstanding."