Since Los Angeles Angels manager Joe Maddon moved Justin Upton to the leadoff spot, he’s been remarkable serving as the prequel to two-way star Shohei Ohtani. In 22 games batting first, he’s slashing .329/.426/.588 and has been one of the Angels best hitters. However, his excellence from that position is subdued by the nightly brilliance of Ohtani.
On Thursday night, Ohtani pitched six innings, allowing one run and striking out five batters. He also took two walks as a batter. The very next night as the designated hitter — something Ohtani never used to do — he belted two home runs to put him just one shy of the MLB lead with 21 on the season. This also came on the day he announced his entry into the Home Run Derby.
Upton — who sees as up close as anyone how good Ohtani is — said he expects this given what he notices on a daily basis, according to J.P. Hoornstra of The O.C. Register:
“I hate to say it but I’m not surprised,” Upton said of Ohtani’s two-homer game. “The way he’s swinging the bat, the work he’s putting in to prepare each day, I’m just not surprised. When he puts a good swing on the ball and makes contact, he’s one of the few guys it’s either off the wall or going over the wall. It’s just impressive to watch.”
Maddon is also impressed but unsurprised, as he is finally allowing Ohtani to be fully unleashed, something he said wouldn’t be possible without good communication.
“Nothing about him is difficult because the communication is so good,” Maddon said. “Ippei is very significant in this situation because the communication is so clear. Ippei is able to give me the nuance regarding the translation. I think I know exactly how Shohei’s feeling. I thought he looked really strong tonight. I didn’t see anything diminished based on what he’s done yesterday.”
Now, the Angels are hovering .500 once again — much better than where they were at a few weeks ago — and it’s largely due to what Ohtani has done. Of course, credit must be given to the entire Angels roster for coming together to overcome the temporary loss of Mike Trout, but it’s Ohtani that has led the way.
Ohtani does something unique and incredible almost every night, and it’s clear that his teammates and coaches are having a blast getting to watch it first-hand.
Taylor Ward continuing to improve
On a lesser scale, Taylor Ward is also starting to feel more comfortable in his increased role for the Angels. Despite some significant batting struggles earlier this season, he’s starting to come into his own. He has seven RBI’s in two games against the Detroit Tigers.