Ohtani outmuscles A’s in pitching debut

Angels starter Shohei Ohtani entered the regular season on the heels of a Spring Training that had some wondering if he was ready to pitch in the big leagues.

But after beating the Athletics, 7-4, in his first meaningful game in the states at the Oakland Coliseum Sunday, Ohtani’s 27.00 ERA and 4.12 WHIP this spring look more like April fools jokes.

It wasn’t just Ohtani, though. The A’s (1-3) were vastly outplayed by the Angels (3-1) all weekend in every facet of the game — particularly on the field.

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the A’s clubhouse at the Oakland Coliseum.

Los Angeles scored four of its runs — the difference between a win and a loss on this day — in a pair of two-run frames, the second and fifth. In both innings, left fielder Khris Davis appeared to be in position to make the plays. And both times he came up short. Davis, who is expected to play get the majority of his playing time this year as the designated hitter, was in left for Matthew Joyce who was filling the DH role with a tender ankle.

Manager Bob Melvin defended the first play, a two-out double run-scoring off the bat of Luis Valbuena, but couldn’t do the same for the second:

“The second one was probably an easier play for him. Usually he makes those plays. … We envision him more with some DH at-bats but with Joycee’s injury we played him out there — he’s a better outfielder than he showed today.”

Even with Davis’ miscues, the story was the Angel hurler.

Tabbed the Japanese Babe Ruth — who was 94-46 with a 2.28 ERA as a pitcher — Ohtani (W, 1-0, 4.50 ERA, 0.67 WHIP) looked every bit the part in the first 1-1/3 innings, striking out three of the first four batters he faced. But the A’s bats caught up to him, and they did so quickly.

After blowing through the top half of the Oakland order with a 96- to 99-mph fastball and a sharp slider-splitter combination, velocities ranging from 81 to 89, Ohtani surrendered the first solid contact, and hit, of his major league career on a Joyce line-drive single to left. Stephen Piscotty went the other way as well, lining a 100-mph heater to right, one batter later.

Matt Chapman was the first to pull the 23-year-old rookie, yanking an 83-mph hanging slider over the Rickey Henderson Field wall insignia in left-center to finish the rally with a three-run blast (1).

It appeared that the A’s had broken through against big righty, but he put thing right back in place following the 392-foot homer allowing just one walk over the next 4-2/3.

Ohtani lasted 6 innings in his much ballyhooed big league debut, surrendering three hits, one walk and three runs while striking out six.

Chapman said he thought the youngster may have been a bit amped, playing in front of millions of eyes across the world, early:

“He started working more down. I think he might have been a little excited early. … As he settled down, he got more composed he started working down and then the split-finger started playing off his fastball, and his other off-speed pitches.”

Like Daniel Mengden Saturday, Daniel Gossett (L, 9.00 ERA, 2.00 WHIP) was the victim of the tough-luck loss Sunday. He was pulled 66 pitches into his first start of the season, lasting 4 innings and giving up six hits, two walks and four runs. The score book says that each of his four runs allowed were earned by Los Angeles, but the eye test does not concur.

Four very catchable fly balls went uncaught — really five, but Jed Lowrie‘s drop in the sixth was turned into a force out at second when Andrelton Simmons was not prepared for the 90-foot sprint.

Melvin said he thought it was overall positive for the second-year hurler:

“His velo was good, he threw some sharp breaking balls. … Overall, probably a good start for Goose, he threw some good pitches today.”

Gossett said he felt good about the decisions he and catcher Jonathan Lucroy made, just could executed better:

“I felt like I was convicted on every pitch. … Just, the spots weren’t lining up for me today.”

The Oakland defense was also charged with an error for the third game in a row when Boog Powell overran a Mike Trout single in a seventh-inning rally that yielded three runs (two earned) to Chris Hatcher‘s record.

All told, the A’s gave away eight bases and four runs that weren’t truly earned by the Angels — they were given nothing in return.

The Angels may not have been in an Easter giving mood, but the A’s finally did find a way to take in the ninth, getting three hits to knock out closer Blake Parker out of a non-save opportunity. Alas, it was Keynan Middleton (S, 1, 0.00 ERA, 0.67 WHIP) who got Powell to line out to second ending the threat with the bases loaded after just one more had crossed.

Piscotty was credited with the ninth-inning RBI on his second hit of the game to match Joyce with a team-high. The Angels had a much more well-rounded attack, getting multi-hit games from four including three hits, two RBIs and one run from Simmons.

On Deck

The A’s welcome another AL West rival, the Rangers (1-2), Monday for game one of a four-game set. Bartolo Colon (7-14, 6.48 ERA, 1.59 WHIP last season) gets the start for Texas facing Andrew Triggs (5-6, 4.27 ERA, 1.33 WHIP), who is 1-0 having allowed three runs (one earned) in 12-2/3 career innings (0.71 ERA) against the Rangers. A former Athletic, Colon is 17-10 with a 2.97 ERA in 37 games at the Oakland Coliseum.

Notes

Matthew Joyce was in the starting lineup as Oakland’s designated hitter for the second day in a row after rolling his ankle running bases Friday night. Manager Bob Melvin said prior to the game that while Joyce is still experiencing some discomfort he is expected to be back in left field soon. … Josh Lucas, who was acquired via trade from the Cardinals Saturday, will be sent to Triple-A Nashville, according to Melvin, who added that the option is there to bring the righty to the A’s for added depth in the bullpen.


Kalama Hines is SFBay’s sports director and Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.