MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — One week into Shohei Ohtani’s return to the Los Angeles Angels, the lineup is looking sharp.
Minnesota ace Jose Berrios bore the brunt of their batting success on Monday night.
Ohtani hit his first home run of the season, a towering two-run shot in the third inning against Berrios, and Tommy La Stella hit the go-ahead homer in the sixth to give the Angels a 5-4 victory over the Twins.
“I’ve been hitting the ball in the air recently,” Ohtani said through an interpreter. “I think it showed today that I’m improving.”
The Angels are 5-2 on this nine-game trip that started with Ohtani’s 2019 debut following Tommy John elbow surgery that has shelved the two-way Japanese sensation’s pitching prowess for now.
“We’ve been waiting to get him back. You see how different the lineup is when he’s in there, and hopefully he’s starting to get his timing,” La Stella said.
Ohtani reached base on four of his five plate appearances. His 429-foot drive off the videoboard facade beneath the second deck in left-center field was the highlight of the three-run, five-hit third. The AL Rookie of the Year homered 22 times in 326 at-bats in 2018.
“We all know the power’s there, and that was a no-doubter to the opposite field,” Angels manager Brad Ausmus said. “You don’t see a lot of balls hit the other way from many people in this game that way.”
La Stella hit his team-leading 10th homer of the season, in 36 games, and went 3 for 5. The 30-year-old second baseman, who came to the Angels in a largely unnoticed trade with the Chicago Cubs, had 10 home runs in 396 major league games entering this season.
Just as impressive as the power was the way the Angels continually beat the shifts employed by the Twins. Albert Pujols, who went 3 for 5, poked a single off an 0-2 curveball past the glove of Berrios (6-2) and through the empty right side of the infield in the fifth for a 4-2 lead.
Jorge Polanco and Marwin Gonzalez each hit two-run homers off Angels starter Tyler Skaggs (4-3), but the Twins weren’t able to overcome this uncharacteristic vulnerability by their All-Star right-hander.
“Today was one of those days where the ball found open spaces against us, and that’s just part of the game,” said Berrios, who gave up five runs and a career-high 12 hits in 5 2/3 innings, his shortest start of the year, while walking three. He induced two groundball double plays.
The Twins went 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position, including a fly ball by Mitch Garver with two on and two out in the fourth that left fielder Brian Goodwin caught with his glove stretched to the top of the wall and his back pressed against it.
“It’s going to happen. I wouldn’t be surprised if our guys bounce back well and have the same good at bats they have been having all year tomorrow,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said.
Though Ohtani’s homer immediately after the gaffe rendered it moot, Gonzalez committed a two-base error when he slightly overran Mike Trout’s line-drive single and allowed the awkwardly bouncing ball to skip past him into the corner as La Stella scored. This was Gonzalez’s first career start in right field.
Pujols produced his own blooper for the Angels in the following inning, when he dropped a soft pop-up by Willians Astudillo to first base to put the leadoff man on in the fourth. Pujols even followed fundamentals by putting both hands in place for the catch, but the ball still bounced off the heel of his glove.
After a slow start, Gonzalez has a 1.042 on-base-plus-slugging percentage over his last 11 games. With third baseman Miguel Sano slated to return soon, Gonzalez will start moving around the diamond more.
“I don’t have a favorite position. I enjoy what I do. I fell in love with what I do. I’m going to do whatever Rocco needs me to do,” Gonzalez said.
Skaggs, David Fletcher and Griffin Canning of the Angels and Byron Buxton, Blake Parker and Mike Morin of the Twins are scheduled for a joint visit to a local children’s hospital on Tuesday. When the Angels and Twins meet next week, players from both teams will again share cheer-up efforts at a children’s hospital in Southern California.
Angels: RHP Luis Garcia was placed on the 10-day injured list with a muscle spasm in his lower back. RHP Taylor Cole was recalled from Triple-A Salt Lake to take his place in the bullpen.
Twins: DH Nelson Cruz sat out with a sore left wrist, but an MRI test revealed no structural damage. He said he hopes to start swinging a bat on Tuesday or Wednesday, but he’s not expected to need a stint on the injured list. “I have to be a good kid. Just be patient,” Cruz said.
Angels: RHP Felix Pena (2-1, 3.21 ERA) will start on Tuesday night, after a one-inning opener was used in each of his last three appearances. Pena pitched seven shutout innings in his last turn, allowing only three hits and striking out seven without a walk in a win at Detroit.
Twins: RHP Kyle Gibson (3-1, 4.19 ERA) will take the mound in the middle game of the series, coming off his strongest start of the season. He gave up one run on two hits and one walk in six innings, with a career-high 11 strikeouts in a win at Toronto.