ANAHEIM ― If every day this season offers a referendum on Shohei Ohtani’s Most Valuable Player award credentials, every Saturday is becoming an important notch in his Cy Young Award resumé too.
Ohtani’s latest effort, in which he threw seven shutout innings against the Seattle Mariners in a 2-1 Angels win, furthered his case to be chosen as the American League’s top pitcher.
Ohtani limited the Mariners (80-64) to three hits, all singles. He walked one batter and struck out eight. Over his last four starts, Ohtani has allowed just two runs, lowering his ERA from 2.83 to 2.43 – fourth in the AL.
At the plate, he was just as valuable Saturday.
In the fourth inning, Ohtani (13-8) scored what proved to be the game-winning run. He drew a leadoff walk against right-hander George Kirby (7-4), went to second base on a single by Taylor Ward, advanced to third base on a wild pitch, then scored on a Matt Duffy groundout.
In the first inning, Ohtani hit a double over the head of left fielder Jesse Winker to score Mike Trout from first base, giving the Angels a 1-0 lead. It was neither the first time – nor likely the last – that Ohtani did seemingly everything to lead the Angels to a victory.
These days, he’s stockpiling superlatives outside the glare of a playoff race, but with the full attention of postseason awards voters.
“I love Aaron Judge like a son,” said Angels interim manager Phil Nevin, who coached for the New York Yankees from 2018-21, “but I’ll continue to say it: (Ohtani) can take over a baseball game like nobody else can.”
While Judge is Ohtani’s main threat to repeating as MVP, he has at least three challengers for the Cy Young: Houston’s Justin Verlander, Tampa Bay’s Shane McLanahan, and the Chicago White Sox’s Dylan Cease. No starting pitcher has ever won a Cy Young without qualifying for an ERA title, and Ohtani must throw 14 more innings to qualify.
It’s doable. Nevin said Ohtani is scheduled to make three more starts before the season is over. Ohtani said through his interpreter “at this point I’m pretty close and I’ve never actually gotten there, so I want to see, experience how it is to get to those minimum innings.”
It was not clear from the outset Saturday that Ohtani would be able to complete seven innings. On a night when the Mariners’ best hitter, Julio Rodriguez, was scratched from the lineup with a low back injury, Ohtani went deep into the count against several opponents early in the game.
“I felt like I was trying too hard to get swings and misses early in the count,” Ohtani said through his interpreter. “That’s why my pitch count was up. The second half of the game, I was more relaxed, able to keep my pitch count down.”
On his 107th and final pitch, Ohtani induced a double-play groundout started by second baseman Luis Rengifo to end the seventh inning. Ohtani pumped his fist before walking off the field.
Ohtani has been dealing with a finger blister on his right hand recently, but he said he was able to treat it between innings to the point where it was not an issue Saturday.
Durability is a measure of Ohtani’s value rarely reflected in the box score.
“Over the course of 162 games, I think if you ask any player out here, they play through something,” Nevin said. “I would imagine for a guy that does things on both sides of the ball like he does, there may be some things here and there that he doesn’t tell us about that he thinks he can manage on his own. There have certainly been some things that we’ve had to treat that he’s been fine to pitch with, to hit with.”
Although Ohtani’s night ended there, the Angels had more work to do.
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Right-hander Jaime Barría allowed a mammoth home run to Taylor Trammell in the eighth inning, bringing Seattle within 2-1. Barría walked the next batter he faced, J.P. Crawford, before getting a double-play groundout to escape that jam.
Aaron Loup pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning to close out the win before an announced crowd of 35,538 at Angel Stadium. It was his first save in four opportunities this season, and his first in a major league game since 2014.
The Angels (63-82) collected only four hits in winning their second consecutive game against Seattle. In a close game, it was easy to measure the impact of Ohtani’s two-way effort.
While Ohtani is loathe to self-promote, he did offer a valuable self-assessment for anyone who doubts his ability to repeat as MVP.
“I feel like overall balance-wise,” he said, “I’m having a better season this year than I did last year.”