Anything Shohei Ohtani does for the rest of the Angels’ season draws the same reaction: MVP? And on Saturday night, he continued to make his case.
The American League MVP was out with a blister during his last start in Houston and was still managed during the Angels’ 2-1 win over the Seattle Mariners. Not only did Ohtani throw seven shutout innings and strike out eight, increasing his total to 196, but he also accounted for two of the Angels’ runs.
The Mariners’ lone run came off a solo home run by Taylor Trammel in the eighth.
Asked after the game if he thinks he brings the most value of any player in the league, Ohtani said in Japanese, through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara: “I don’t like to criticize myself in any way, but something only I could. say that I feel, overall, from a balance point of view, I have a better season this year than I had last year, which gives me a lot of confidence.”
Ohtani induced his first batter, JP Crawford, to reach an easy base, then struck out the next two batters, Ty France and Carlos Santana.
The last two pitches Ohtani threw to Santana were 101.1 mph sinkers followed by an 86 mph slider. He walked off the mound with a wink.
He followed that up by supporting himself. With Mike Trout on first after the single, Ohtani hit a near-home run double to left field. The RBI double scored and the Angels took an early 1-0 lead.
Ohtani also scored the Angels’ second run in the fourth inning. After walking Mariners starter George Kirby, Ohtani advanced to third on a single by Taylor Ward, then a wild pitch to Mike Ford. Ohtani was driven in on Matt Duffy’s ground out.
“We’re all seeing things that we haven’t seen before,” Angels interim manager Phil Nevin said. “You know, being so dominant on both sides.”
His pitch count spiked early in the game and once he realized it, Nevin said, he became more effective getting defensive help from the inside.
One of those big plays came in the second inning, when Luis Rengifo dove to stop Adam Frazier’s grounder and got the forceout at second.
“It was a huge play,” Ohtani said. “My pitch count was really high so I managed to keep my pitch count from going higher.”
He also got some much-needed relief in his final innings.
Although he tends to be a pitcher with a slower pace between pitches, Ohtani, who picked up his 13th win, showed signs that his tank was running low toward the end of his outing.
He had already thrown over 100 pitches by the time he retired his first batter of the seventh inning, then walked the second batter he faced.
But as the reliever started to heat up, Ohtani got Frazier into an easy double play to end the inning. Ohtani pumped a fist in the air, whipping it in an arc toward his body and kicked up his knee, celebrating the last big outs.
“He didn’t question the game, but it was time,” Nevin said.
When asked how much value Ohtani brought to Saturday’s game, Nevin smiled and said, “the biggest one.”
In addition to earning a second MVP award, Ohtani has hit the minimum required for the ERA title, which is 162. Ohtani has not pitched 162 innings in a season, but he finished Saturday with 148.
“Normally, I don’t really think about those things, but at this point, I’m pretty close,” Ohtani said when asked what an ERA title would mean to him. “I never got it [the minimum innings] so I want to see, to experience what it’s like to reach those minimums.”
The new man
Livan Soto got the best story of his life when the Angels called him up to the big league club.
“My dreams have come true,” he said in Spanish on his first day in the Angels’ clubhouse before their game with the Seattle Mariners on Saturday. “I think it’s the best thing that could happen to a football player because that’s what we work for.”
Soto, a Venezuelan player with the Angels’ double-A affiliate, the Rocket City Trash Pandas, was called up to replace the injured David Fletcher.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.