Opening weekend in is the books and there are plenty of positives for fans to take away from the 4-game series in Oakland. Sure there was the extra attention on the ball club going into 2018 but there was never a moment where I felt the guys in the clubhouse were anything other than ready to just play meaningful games. Even with the added spotlight of having Shohei Ohtani on this team and the extra media (240 media credentials for Ohtani’s MLB pitching debut), guys were themselves and it showed in all 4 games.
Opening Day didn’t go as planned. Well, not true…it was going as planned until the A’s came back in the game against Garrett Richards. My takeaway from G-Rich’s performance on Thursday afternoon is that he’s back. His ‘stuff’ was as electric as we’ve seen in some time and that’s always good to hear. We didn’t see a dip in velocity as the game progressed nor did we see less bite on his pitches. He did, however, make a crucial mistake to Khris Davis that cost him a 3-run HR. Ironically, it was during the Davis at-bat we were talking about how good Richards’ breaking ball had been and the couple of swings he got out of Davis because of it. I mentioned that in the past, Gubi and I have spoken often about pitchers in general wanting, or feeling compelled, to ‘set up’ a hitter after getting them to chase…sometimes you just keep going with what’s working. Unfortunately, Richards and Martin Maldonado decided to sneak a fastball in and when the pitch sailed back across the plate, the dead-red fastball hitter Davis didn’t miss. Those things are going to happen through the course of a season and I’m sure it’s filed in the back of Garrett’s head. Matt Olson then followed with a solo HR and a 4-0 lead dissipated quickly.
The Angels were able to re-take the lead later only to see Cam Bedrosian allow a run in first appearance of the season. Cam has great stuff but he’s also at the point in his big league career where he should be able to throw all of his pitches for strikes in any situation and when he (or any other pitcher) can only throw one, MLB hitters will sit on that one pitch and it cost him first blown save of the year. While the Angels were unable to pick up the W in their first game of the year, they did not allow it to snowball the rest of the weekend.
The new-look offense was stellar. Zack Cozart, Kole Calhoun, Martin Maldonado each had 3 hits as the Angels pounded out 13 in the losing effort. Albert Pujols chipped in with 2 hits, including his 615th career HR. It was a very good preview of what the weekend (and perhaps the season) would have in store with the way the lineup was able to produce. And of course, I can’t forget about Shohei Ohtani…he made his MLB debut as the Angels DH and better yet, picked up his first MLB hit on the very first pitch he saw from Kendall Graveman…a clean single to RF. Ohtani finished the game 1 for 5 but at least was able to have several good plate appearances that you’d think would allow him to put his spring training struggles behind him.
On Friday night (the only night game of the series), we had the opportunity to watch Tyler Skagg’s season debut and it was masterful. I’ll be honest, I think that’s the best I’ve seen Skaggs pitch since he was carrying a no-hitter in Baltimore the night he eventually left with the elbow problem that subsequently became Tommy John surgery. His fastball command was spot-on and the breaking ball was ridiculous. Tyler was able to throw the breaking ball for strikes & he used it as a put-away pitch when needed. Sprinkled in with some change-ups and moving the fastball on both sides of the plate, the performance allowed him to work 6.1 innings and pick up his (and the Angels) first win of the season which is nice considering he only won 2 games last year in making just 16 starts.
Friday night saw the debut of Ian Kinsler after sitting out Opening Day with a groin issue. Unfortunately, his start did not last 9 full innings as Ian was lifted with what was labeled as fatigue (he was placed on the DL Saturday morning). While this team managed just fine without Kinsler for 3 of the 4 games, there’s no doubt he’s going to play a huge role in the leadoff spot once he’s back in there daily.
The offense was limited to just 6 hits in the win on Friday night and much of that was because of Sean Manaea’s performance for Oakland. The lefty was masterful with his slider and changeup the majority of the game and he really did a nice job of keeping Angels hitters off-balance. Mike Trout got him for a solo HR on a changeup down in the zone, the same exact pitch Trout touched Manaea for a HR last year. For Trout, it was his 1st hit of the season after going 0-6 on Opening Day, the first time he’s done that in his career.
The Angels were able to take advantage of the A’s defense in the 9th inning and scratch out an unearned run to pick up their first win of the season, 2-1.
On Saturday afternoon, the offense was back to work. No Kinsler, no problem…Cozart was back in the leadoff spot and he led the way as the first batter of the game, tripling to RF on a poor decision by Stephen Piscotty…it became somewhat of a running theme for the A’s defense (they led MLB last year with 121 errors, leading to 83 unearned runs). The thing about the other team making mistakes, you must take advantage of them and the Angels did so throughout the weekend.
Trout broke out with his 1st 3-hit game of the year ( 2 2B’s/1B w 2 RBIs & 2 Runs), Cozart finished with a 3B/2B & 2 RBIs and back-up catcher, Rene Rivera, added 2 hits of his own batting in the 9th spot. Rivera did a nice job of handling Angels starter Matt Shoemaker on Saturday. Shoe did what Shoe does, relied on his devastating split to get big outs when he needed. He never really struggled until the 6th inning when his command left him. After retiring the 1st 2 batters easily in the 6th inning and with a 7-0 lead, a BB/2B/BB/1B ended his afternoon. He was able to pick up his 1st win of the year but he had a very good chance of surpassing Skaggs’ 6.1 IP on the previous day & it just got away from him.
The last game of the series brought us the MLB pitching debut of Ohtani. There was plenty of excitement throughout the weekend in Oakland for obvious reasons but once Sunday morning arrived, it finally felt ‘real.’ The excitement began around 12:30pm when Ohtani first departed the dugout area and headed to the RF foul line to begin stretching for his start. The sea of red by the Angels bullpen was a sight to see…they were there early and were thrilled when Ohtani finally got to the bullpen mound to begin his warmup tosses. It was evident early, as I was using my camera doing a live instagram post on his warm-up, he had some serious life on his fastball. It’s difficult how hard those fastballs were really being thrown because the coliseum bullpen mounds face away from home plate and towards the outfield wall but you can just see the ‘life’ he had on those pitches.
Once the game began, it was all eyes on Sho-time. Ohtani did not disappoint, retiring the side in order including a couple of strikeouts. The 2nd inning started off with the strikeout of Khris Davis but then back to back singles by Matt Joyce and Piscotty put two men on base. Ohtani made some good pitches to Matt Chapman but a hanging slider wasn’t one of them as Chapman quickly hushed the Angels faithful with a 3-run HR. Call me crazy but I think it was a good thing Ohtani became mere mortal early in the game instead of later. I think the underlying feeling in our booth was more about how he was going to react to it all…
Ohtani put it all aside and just went back to work. He did not allow one mistake pitch to define him as a player, there was too much at stake. At that moment, everything we had heard about Ohtani in Japan finally appeared. Business-like, determined, driven, etc…he had it all and looked more like a 10-year veteran than the 23-year old rookie he is. Ohtani went on to retire 14 of the next 15 batters he faced after the HR, allowing his only BB of the game with 1 out in the 4th inning. Ohtani threw 38 pitches that were 95mph or higher and of those, 22 were 98mph or higher. More importantly, he picked up his first MLB win with the Halos taking the series from Oakland.
All of the ‘concern’ and ‘scouting reports’ from spring training were thrown out the window after Ohtani took the mound. His stuff is as legit as all 30 teams in MLB claimed it would be, that’s why they ALL recruited him or at least wanted him. Anthony Bass, the former big leaguer and teammate of Ohtani’s in Japan said this in the middle of March:
He wasn’t lights out in spring training when I played with him in Japan. Just wait until the season starts. It’s an entirely new person that takes the field.
— Anthony Bass (@AnthonyBass52) March 16, 2018
And that’s exactly what we saw on Sunday, a completely different guy on the mound. A guy that answers the bell and doesn’t worry about what others are saying about him. He’s on a mission to accomplish something that hasn’t been done in a 100 years and if one game is any indication, considering how bright the spotlight is, the kid’s going to be alright.
So 2018 is off and running and the Angels are 3-1. Who knows where this team will end up at the end of the year but barring any major injuries, this team should be positioned to contend until the end. The lineup has some balance to it and the defense is going to be ridiculous. Just like we still get excited for every at-bat Trout has, the same will occur with Ohtani when he comes to the plate or is on the mound…there’s a buzz about this team and rightfully so.
As always, feel free to reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Livin’ the dream..