Shohei Ohtani is double trouble in leading Angels to victory over Mariners

Shohei Ohtani gave up three hits over seven scoreless innings, leading the Angels to a 2-1 win over Seattle on Saturday night. He is 13-8 this season with a 2.43 ERA. (Alex Gallardo/Associated Press)

Anything Shohei Ohtani does for the remainder of the Angels’ season draws the same reaction: MVP? And on Saturday night, I continued to make his case.

The reigning American League most valuable player had struggled with a blister during his last start in Houston and was still managing it during the Angels’ 2-1 win over the Seattle Mariners. Ohtani not only threw seven shutout innings and struck out eight, increasing his total to 196, but he also accounted for the Angels’ two runs.

The Mariners’ lone run came off a solo home run by Taylor Trammel in the eighth.

When asked after the game whether 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 self-criticize myself in any way, but one thing I could say is that I feel like overall, balance-wise, I’m having a better season this year than I had last year, which leads to a lot of confidence for me.”

Ohtani induced his first batter, JP Crawford, to hit an easy groundout, then struck out the next two batters, Ty France and Carlos Santana.

The final two pitchers Ohtani threw to Santana were a 101.1 mph sinker followed by an 86 mph slider. I walked off the mound with a wink.

He followed that by giving himself some running support. With Mike Trout on first after singling, Ohtani hit a double that almost was a home run to left field. The RBI double scored Trout and got the Angels the early 1-0 lead.

The Angels' Shohei Ohtani runs to second base on an RBI double during the first inning Sept.  17, 2022.

Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani runs to second base on an RBI double during the first inning. (Alex Gallardo/Associated Press)

Ohtani also scored the Angels’ second run in the fourth inning. After walking against Mariners starter George Kirby, Ohtani advanced to third on a single by Taylor Ward, followed by a wild pitch to Mike Ford. Ohtani was driven in on Matt Duffy’s groundout.

“We’re all seeing things that we haven’t seen before,” Angels interim manager Phil Nevin said. “You know, to be that dominant on both sides.”

His pitch count ballooned early in the game and once he realized it, Nevin said, he pitched more efficiently while getting some defensive help from the infield.

One of those big plays game in the second inning, when Luis Rengifo had to stop Adam Frazier’s grounder and got the forceout at second.

“That was a huge play,” Ohtani said. “My pitch count was really high so that really saved my pitch count from going any higher.”

He got some much-needed help in his final inning as well.

Although typically a pitcher with a slower tempo between pitches, Ohtani, who picked up his 13th win, showed signs his tank was depleted towards 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 he walked the second batter he faced.

But as a reliever started warming up, Ohtani got Frazier to ground into an easy double play to end the inning. Ohtani pumped a fist in the air, whipping it in an arc towards his body and kicking up his knee, cheering in celebration of the big last outs.

Angels pitcher Shohei Ohtani reacts after the Mariners' Adam Frazier grounded into a double play during the seventh inning.

Angels pitcher Shohei Ohtani reacts after the Mariners’ Adam Frazier grounded into a double play to end the seventh inning. (Alex Gallardo/Associated Press)

“I didn’t ask out of the game, but it was time,” Nevin said.

Asked how much value Ohtani brought to Saturday’s game, Nevin smiled and said, “the most.”

Along with chasing a second MVP award, Ohtani has now closed in on the minimum innings needed to qualify for an ERA title, which is 162. Ohtani has never 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 about what an ERA title would mean to him. “I’d never actually got [the minimum innings] so I want to see, experience how it is to get to those minimum innings.”

The new guy

Livan Soto got the best news of his career 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 can happen to a baseball player because that’s what we work towards.”

Soto, an infielder from Venezuela who has been 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 Los Angeles Times.

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