Shohei Ohtani strikes out 9, but Angels’ bats go silent in Opening Day loss to Astros – Press Enterprise

ANAHEIM — While pitching is usually the focus of most discussion about why the Angels haven’t won in recent years, their 3-1 loss to the Houston Astros in Thursday night’s season opener was a reminder of another issue.

“We’ve not done well in this division primarily because we haven’t hit well in this division against good pitching,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said.

Last season, the Angels had an OPS of .556 against the Oakland A’s and .634 against the Astros, far below their season average of .717.

For much of last season, their lineup was without two of their big three hitters: Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon. They opened this season with both of them in the lineup, behind Shohei Ohtani.

It was all set for the Angels to bring a sellout crowd of 44,723 at Angel Stadium a rousing night, with Ohtani on the mound and at designated hitter – debuting the Ohtani Rule. It ended up as a disappointment, with Houston lefty Framber Valdez dominating them for most of the night. The Angels produced just four hits. Ohtani, Trout and Rendon combined to 1 for 11.

Rendon narrowly missed a go-ahead two-run homer in the seventh, before hitting into a double play. Ohtani was hitless in four at-bats, including a fly ball to right that got the crowd on its feet when he represented the tying run in the eighth.

“Just got a little under it,” Ohtani said through his interpreter.

It was the second of Ohtani’s two at-bats he had after he was done pitching, thanks to the new rule that allows him to be treated as two people, essentially, in the lineup.

On the mound, Ohtani struck out nine in 4-2/3 innings and he allowed one run. Ohtani and the Angels’ other starting pitchers began the season on a tighter pitch count than normal because of the shortened spring training. Ohtani made the most of his 80 pitches.

The only run he allowed was in the third inning, when Michael Brantley blasted a double off the right field fence and then scored on Alex Bregman’s single into left.

Ohtani responded to that with his best inning of the game, striking out the side on 14 pitches in the fourth.

“Shohei showed once again nothing’s too quick for him,” Maddon said. “Nothing’s too big for him. I thought he looked really good.”

Ohtani also came out throwing harder than he had most of last year. His fastball was 97-99 mph in the first inning. Last season, Ohtani typically started out throwing 94-95 and he cranked up the fastball when he needed it.

He said he might try to go for some extra velocity more often this season.

“It’s going to be a long season so I don’t know if fatigue will play into it, but I’ll try to pick my spots,” he said through his interpreter.

When Ohtani left the game as a pitcher, the Angels trailed 1-0. The Astros added a couple of insurance runs with back-to-back homers by Bregman and José Alvarez against Ryan Tepera in his Angels debut in the eighth.

The Angels scored once in the eighth, but couldn’t do anything else, starting the season with a loss, but leaving their manager undeterred.

“I thought it was a wonderful night,” Maddon said. “Of course we wanted to win. We didn’t. I like my team. I like our team a lot, not a little bit. It’s gonna be just fine. We keep playing with that kind of zeal we’re gonna get our hits. We’re gonna make the plays. We’re gonna pitch. I like my group a lot.”

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