ANAHEIM, Calif. – After their latest well-pitched game on Friday and with a 4-4 record over the last eight games, the Orioles continue their road trip tonight at Angel Stadium. The Orioles (5-9) play the Los Angeles Angels (8-6) in the second of a three-game series.
With Friday’s 5-3 win, the Orioles improved to 2-3 on this road trip and to 3-2 in series-opening games. If they can win one of the next two, they will have their second series victory of 2022.
Left-hander Bruce Zimmermann and three relievers teamed up for an eight-hitter with just one walk and nine strikeouts last night. Zimmermann allowed two earned runs over six-plus innings and is 1-0 with a 1.20 ERA. Then Félix Bautista, Cionel Pérez and Jorge López combined for three scoreless out of the ‘pen. Catcher Robinson Chirinos drove in three of the five Baltimore runs.
One of the more improbable things that happened last night was how the Orioles handled Shohei Ohtani, the 2021 American League MVP and the 2021 AP Male Athlete of the Year.
A player who last year had a .965 OPS and 46 homers. A player who in ’21 became the fourth player all-time and first American Leaguer to tally 45 homers, 100 RBIs, 100 runs and 25 stolen bases in a single season.
A week ago Friday, he produced his seventh career multi-homer game. But last night he struck out three times and hit into a key double play. A season ago versus the Orioles he went 5-for-20 and four of the five hits were home runs.
But Zimmermann struck him out in the first inning swinging on a changeup and he fanned him in the fourth and sixth innings on sliders. He batted against the lefty Perez with a man on and the Angels down two runs in the eighth inning. He drilled a ball 103 mph up the middle, but the Orioles turned it into a 6-5-3 double play.
Ohtani is four home runs shy of becoming the third Japanese-born player to reach 100 career home runs in MLB. He would join Hideki Matsui (175) and Ichiro Suzuki (117).
When he was named the 2021 AL Most Valuable Player, it marked the Angels' sixth MVP award in franchise history. That followed Don Baylor (1979), Vladimir Guerrero (2004) and Mike Trout (2014, 2016 & 2019). Ohtani is the second Japanese-born player to receive MVP honors in the majors, joining Suzuki (2001).
Right-hander Spenser Watkins (0-0, 2.25 ERA) gets the start tonight for Baltimore. In his first two starts of the year he has thrown a combined eight innings, allowing six hits and five runs (two earned) with a 1.250 WHIP. Monday at Oakland, in the road trip opener, he allowed one run and two hits over five innings on 67 pitches.
Watkins has yet to yield a hit to a lefty batter this year. They are 0-for-14 against him but righty hitters are batting .353 with an OPS of .951 against him.
Watkins went to Driveline Baseball in Seattle, Wash., this past offseason and it helped him with a velocity bump. His average fastball last year was 90.8 mph and now it is 92.5. But ironically, he is throwing his fastball less, from 47 percent usage last season to 35 percent now. His curveball use is way up, from 16.5 to 31 percent. His fastball also made gains in spin rate and he now ranks among the top 25 percent in MLB in fastball spin rate.
Right-hander Noah Syndergaard (2-0, 1.59 ERA), signed by the Angels in November to a one-year, $21 million dollar deal, will make his third start this evening. In two outings versus the Astros and Rangers he has pitched 11 1/3 allowing seven hits and two runs with two walks, five strikeouts and a WHIP of 0.794.
Syndergaard earned the win last Saturday night in his first career start in his home state. He grew up in Mansfield, Tex., which is located approximately 17 miles from Globe Life Field. He’s the first Angels pitcher to win both of his first two starts with the team since Ohtani in 2018. And he’s the first pitcher to work 5+ innings and allow two-or-fewer runs in both of his first two games for LAA since Andrew Heaney in 2015 and the first righty to do so since Jered Weaver in 2006.