The Angels just concluded their first full week of the 2018 season and while at home, proved it’s going to a be fun season watching these guys.
Starting the week at 3-1 after taking the opening series against Oakland, the Angels started their home schedule with three games against the Cleveland Indians and the A’s. In trying to put a bow on this past week, it’s difficult to come up with anything other than the Shohei Ohtani theme that began when he won his first MLB game on the mound in the Bay Area.
While it seems the early game plan for Ohtani’s usage will continue as planned (no hitting on the day before and after he pitches). It also appears the Angels will continue to go with the 6 days in-between starts for Ohtani, essentially having him pitch once a week and currently that day on the mound has fallen on Sunday.
Ohtani did not hit in the opener of the series against Cleveland and I’m not sure it would’ve mattered because Mike Clevinger was brilliant. The former Angels farmhand (traded by Jerry Dipoto to Cleveland for Vinnie Pestano) was making his first start of the season and he cut through the Angels lineup with no real hiccups along the way. Clevinger allowed no runs on 4 hits and struck out 5 in picking up his first win of the year. On the flip side, JC Ramirez made his first start of the season and he did not look sharp. Decreased velocity on his fastball and not much bite on his breaking ball led to allowing 5 runs on 5 hits (3 HR’s) and a loss. I’ll talk more about JC in a moment.
With Josh Tomlin on the mound on Tuesday, Ohtani was back in the lineup batting in the 8th spot and serving as the Angels DH. After Garrett Richards allowed 2 first inning runs, the Angels came roaring back with 6 runs of their own in the bottom of the inning and it was capped by Ohtani’s 1st MLB HR, a 3-run blast to right-centerfield that sent the Angels faithful into a frenzy. The Angels would go on to beat the Indians 13-2 on Tuesday and Ohtani finished his ‘home’ debut going 3 for 4 with the HR and 3 RBIs in support of Richards, who picked up his 1st win of the season.
In the rubber game of the series on Wednesday afternoon, Tyler Skaggs faced off against the reining AL Cy Young Award winner, Corey Kluber. Kluber was Kluber, allowing just one baserunner through the first 4 innings. In the 5th, with the Angels down 2-0, Andrelton Simmons dropped a 1-out bunt down the 3rd base line for an infield hit (Angels first hit of the game). After Luis Valbuena struck out, up stepped Ohtani. After striking out against Kluber in his first at-bat, Ohtani would exact his revenge in the 5th, drilling a 1-1 pitch to straight away CF for a 2-run HR that would tie the game. It would remain this way for some time as the bullpen kept the Indians at bay for 8 1/3 innings and then in the bottom of the 12th inning, with one out and Zack McAllister on the mound, Zack Cozart hit a walk-off HR to give the Halos their 2nd consecutive series win.
After an off day on Thursday, the Angels hosted the A’s for the first time this year (2nd meeting of the year) for a weekend series. This series would play out much like the series at the Coliseum during Opening Weekend with the A’s battling each and every game. This A’s team is going to give a lot of teams in the American League trouble as they are young and aggressive on the offensive front.
Friday night was a back and forth battle between these two teams. Both starters struggled but it was Parker Bridwell who would get knocked out first, lasting just an 1 1/3 and allowing 6 earned runs. Bridwell was so good for the Angels last season and will need to figure things out in order to provide depth for this team. He struggled with some command issues in the spring and it seems to have carried over, the hope is he can get things going while at Triple A Salt Lake and contribute to this team much in the way he did in ’17. Halos would eventually outlast the A’s in the opener, 13-9, as Simmons & Justin Upton ended up with 3 hits apiece including Upton’s big 3-run HR in the 7th.
Saturday’s game was a tough one not only because the Angels would eventually suffer the loss, but they would also watch JC Ramirez last only 2 innings. Decreased velocity and virtually no tilt or bite on his breaking ball allowed the A’s to take advantage early as they knocked him out after 2 innings…scoring 3 on just 2 hits but picking up 5 walks. It was later revealed Ramirez was lifted with tightness in his forearm (by Sunday morning, he was placed on the 10-day DL with what was called forearm strain, which is never good considering the arm issue he had at the end of last year). The Halos had plenty of chances in this game but were never able to figure out Andrew Triggs and dropped game 2 of the series, 7-3.
We were told on Sunday to expect a large crowd, something that rarely happens on those day games but with Ohtani scheduled to make his home debut on the mound, it would make sense. It turns out not only did we see a large crowd at the Big A, it would be the largest day-game crowd at the stadium since the renovations (44,000+)…and it was loud!
Ohtani did not disappoint, striking out the side in the top of the 1st. The Angels provided Shohei with 2 runs in the bottom of the 1st and it seemed to fuel Ohtani the rest of the way. My only thought early in the game was the interesting velocity we saw…where he was easily in the upper ‘90’s during his first start in Oakland, on Sunday he was hovering around 95mph with the fastball and his splitter in the 87-88mph range (don’t get me wrong, I wish I could’ve throttled down to those numbers when I was on the mound but it was something I just took notice of personally as the game got underway).
The velocity would not be an issue the rest of the way. Ohtani was masterful through his 7 innings of work, mowing down A’s hitters with ease. Whether it was getting guys to chase his splitter or just blowing fastballs by guys at 99/100mph, Ohtani made it look easy…as if he’d been doing this in the big leagues for years. It was very Justin Verlander-esque in that he kept plenty in reserve for later on in the game. I still believe if he had made it through the 7th inning, he would’ve twirled a perfect game in his 2nd MLB game. In the end, he struck out 12 while allowing just 2 baserunners in picking his 2nd win in as many starts.
I mentioned the offense provided some spark and support early and it was good to see, particularly Mike Trout. Trout went into Sunday’s game 0 for 14 since the HR he hit on Tuesday night versus Cleveland. Trout snapped the 0’fer with a solo shot off Kendall Graveman leading off the 3rd inning and would add an RBI 1B in the 4th inning. We’ve heard so much this spring about the importance of balance and depth in this lineup and it’s very true. The Angels have done much of their damage this season without Ian Kinsler (DL but scheduled to come off on Tuesday, April 10th) and with “slow” starts by Trout, Kole Calhoun & Albert Pujols. Those are 3 very big cogs in the lineup that will eventually get on track but it does speak volumes about the rest of the guys that have stepped up and that’s exactly what a championship team does…guys pick each other up (much in the same way the bullpen stepped up this week for the starters).
Halos hit the road for 7 games (3 vs Texas Rangers/4 vs Kansas City Royals) beginning in Arlington on Monday and they do so with a 7-3 mark through their first 10 games. The Angels have lost Matt Shoemaker and JC Ramirez to injuries but should get Andrew Heaney back this week and they’ll need to add another starter as well in order to maintain the 6-man rotation (hasn’t been needed at this point because of the off-day last week). Whether it’s Nick Tropeano or Jaime Barria or a yet to be named option, they’ll be looked upon to step in and give this team a chance and a chance is all anyone is asking for.
As always, feel free to reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Livin’ the dream…
Cover photo credit to Associated Press