New-look Ohtani just the spark Angels need

April 25th, 2022

ANAHEIM -- After scuffling offensively through his first 15 games, two-way star Shohei Ohtani decided to mix it up in an effort to get things going on Sunday.

Ohtani wore high red socks and ditched his usual long sleeves under his jersey, opting to only wear a sleeve on his right arm. And while his uniform change didn't bring him an extra-base hit in the series finale, he did go 2-for-4 with a walk and sparked two rallies in a 7-6 win over the Orioles at Angel Stadium. It helped Ohtani improve his slash line to .224/.288/.403 in 16 games this year.

"I loved it, I thought it looked really good," Angels manager Joe Maddon said with a smile about Othani’s new look. "It's just all about confidence right now. He's so good. He's going to get hot, like scalding hot soon. We're hanging in there pretty well right now [as a team], but we're still not near what I think we're capable of doing offensively."

Ohtani led off the game with a walk and batted twice in the first inning, as the Angels got out to an early 6-0 lead. Right-hander Chris Ellis struggled for Baltimore, as he didn't record an out and was charged with all six runs. Jared Walsh gave the Angels a two-run lead with a single to left before Jo Adell smacked a grand slam to right to make it a 6-0 lead. It was the second career grand slam for Adell, who was a late addition to the lineup after Brandon Marsh was scratched with a stomach bug.

"In that situation, I was definitely looking for something up a little bit," Adell said. "I got a pitch middle-away. I knew I was going to get anything I could pull, so I had to stay toward more of the middle of the field and away."

The Angels, though, couldn't hold the six-run lead, as the Orioles scored three runs off lefty José Suarez in the third and three more runs in the seventh against relievers Aaron Loup and Austin Warren.

But Ohtani led off the seventh with a single off right-hander Mike Baumann, then showed off his speed by tagging up and reaching second base on a deep drive to right from Mike Trout. Ohtani also reached on an error in the fourth and had second base stolen, only to come off the bag and get tagged out.

After Ohtani reached second, Anthony Rendon walked and Walsh was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Hard-throwing right-hander Félix Bautista was brought in to face Taylor Ward, who found himself in a 1-2 hole before working a walk to bring home Ohtani as the go-ahead run. It was yet another solid plate appearance from Ward, who walked three times in the game and has 10 walks in 36 plate appearances this year. He explained after the game he didn’t think Bautista would throw a strike despite it being a 3-2 count.

"I auto-took it," Ward said. "He could've piped it right down the middle and I would've let it go. When you're in the box sometimes, you get these feelings like, ‘I know a fastball is coming here,’ or ‘I know this guy isn't going to throw a strike.’ It was a roll of a dice and the game was on the line, but that was my hunch."

The Angels, however, couldn't tack on another run, as Matt Duffy was brought in as a pinch-hitter for Adell and flied out to shallow right, then Kurt Suzuki popped up to third to end the inning. It was a similar situation in the eighth, when Ohtani singled on an 0-2 slider with two outs and the Angels again eventually loaded the bases. But Jack Mayfield, serving as a pinch-hitter for Walsh, flied out to right. Maddon said he liked the matchups better for Duffy and Mayfield, even though the moves didn’t work out.

It was enough for the bullpen, though, as reliever Jimmy Herget threw a perfect eighth and came back out for the ninth, with closer Raisel Iglesias unavailable because of his recent usage. Herget gave up a leadoff single and was reliever by right-hander Archie Bradley, who threw a scoreless inning to get his first save with the Angels. Maddon compared the win to getting a root canal; Bradley, on the other hand, was pleased to see his club pull out the victory.

“It was big,” Bradley said. “It’s early in the year, but avoiding the sweep and knowing we can pull together for the win is big. It sets the tone going into the series against Cleveland now.”