How's outdueling Ohtani for a birthday celebration?

Howard turns in five scoreless innings in his best start since joining Rangers

July 29th, 2022

ANAHEIM -- There isn't a much better birthday present than a solid win against a divisional opponent who sends reigning American League MVP Shohei Ohtani to the mound.

Just ask Rangers starter Spencer Howard, who tossed five innings with five strikeouts and no walks on Thursday night as Texas cruised to a 2-0 win at Angel Stadium, snapping a three-game losing skid.

Howard, who turned 26 on Thursday, is the eighth Rangers pitcher to record a win on his birthday.

“It's a good birthday,” Howard said, smiling. “It felt good, though. I felt pretty under control. … I was more happy with the execution of the pitches than the results, because results come and go right? That's cliché as all get out, but it's true.

“My intent pretty much this whole year has just been to go after guys, but that, to me, has been doing too much. Today was the first day where not doing too much was really executed.”

It was Howard’s best start since he came to the Rangers at the 2021 Trade Deadline in a deal that sent Kyle Gibson to the Phillies. His ERA dropped from 7.11 to 5.93 as he moved quickly through the Angels’ lineup.

Manager Chris Woodward said he could tell from the very first at-bat -- when Howard got Ohtani to ground out to first baseman Nathaniel Lowe -- that the young starter was dialed in.

“I looked at [Doug Mathis and Brendan Sagara], our pitching coaches, and said something was different,” Woodward said. “He's been kind of building up to that. He's had really good conversations with the pitching guys, and you just see that he's carrying himself pretty well around the clubhouse. His bullpens have been really good, and finally we get to see it come out in a game. He just looked like he was in command out there.”

It was also Howard’s only start of the season without allowing any walks or home runs, and he only allowed three baserunners -- two doubles and a triple -- throughout his outing.

Howard didn’t go a full five innings for the Rangers in any start in 2021, and while he has done so in ’22, it’s never been with that type of effectiveness or efficiency. Howard was removed from the game with just 76 pitches through five innings, but Woodward wanted to avoid Howard having to face the Angels’ order a third time through.

Woodward added afterward that the Rangers are building up to Howard being able to go longer, but that 75-80 pitch mark has been the righty’s “sweet spot” this year, and they felt like he did his job tonight against the Angels by going five.

“We’ve seen him good at times, but I just think that from pitch one, he had a command about the game,” Woodward said. “He just looked like he was in control. He looked very comfortable on the mound. He just had a real calmness about him. The slider was getting down, he was throwing the breaking ball, the curveball, in the strike zone when he needed to, and the fastballs didn’t miss much.”

Howard said he felt like his execution was the best it’s been all season at the big league level as he tried to force himself to “move as slow as possible.”

By doing that, he wasn’t trying to overpower hitters and just let his stuff play.

“When he's throwing like that, he's not thinking much out there,” Woodward said. “He's just executing pitches and the stuff is coming out of his hands really well. That was probably the best I've seen him pitch for us.”

The Rangers’ two runs came courtesy of a solo homer from Lowe and an RBI double from Corey Seager. Lowe noted that it felt like a complete team win for Texas behind Howard on the mound.

“Spencer was great,” Lowe said. “The stuff has always been there, so it's nice to see him put it together and get through that one and get some zeros. He's been doing what he can to get better and it's showing so we're really about that. … I think he gave us a birthday present.”