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Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani’s two-way showing was a success and there needs to be more of it

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — There was a moment in Sunday’s Chicago White SoxLos Angeles Angels game that would’ve passed as a nondescript subtlety if not for the obvious constraints that have come to define Major League Baseball. It was the start of the third inning. Shohei Ohtani made the final out in the second, a hard line-out to center field, so he quickly retreated to the dugout, dropped off his helmet, picked up his glove and jogged back to the mound. On his way there, he noticed his back pocket was hanging out, so he scrambled to tuck it back in and shoved some of his jersey down into his pants before stepping onto the rubber to begin warming up again.

It felt like Little League.

Throughout the night, as the 26-year-old Ohtani did what hasn’t been done in 118 years, a similar buoyancy pervaded.

Ohtani was going to pitch and hit and let his talent shine without any needless restrictions. Then he threw a pitch 101 mph in the top of the first and hit a pitch 115 mph in the bottom of the first, and it felt as if nothing else mattered. Baseball, even on the fourth night of the year, was everything again, triggering the type of organic joy that can’t be duplicated by new rules or different baseballs.

The way it ended — with Ohtani limping off the field, his left ankle tender after absorbing a cleat from White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu — was a sobering reminder of how fragile this could be.

Angels manager Joe Maddon has stressed since spring training that Ohtani take charge of his career and eliminate unnecessary restrictions.

“The rules are — there aren’t going to be any rules,” Maddon said in February.

It paved the way for Sunday, the first time a pitcher batted in the No. 2 spot of the lineup since 1903. And it was evidenced by the way the top of the fifth inning played out, with Ohtani left in to face Yoan Moncada with the bases loaded, the command wavering and the pitch count approaching 90.

The decision had nothing to do with keeping Ohtani’s bat in the lineup, considering he made the final out in the prior half-inning. And it wasn’t the result of not having someone ready in the bullpen, given how long Steve Cishek had been warming up. It was much simpler than that.

“Did you see the stuff he had?” Maddon asked — rhetorically, of course — after the Angels’ eventual 7-4 win.

Ohtani, admittedly energized by the return of fans to baseball stadiums, felt “really grateful” that Maddon left him in longer than most other managers would have.

“I wanted to get out of the jam and prove to everyone that Joe’s decision was correct,” Ohtani said through his interpreter, “but I couldn’t.”

Had Angels catcher Max Stassi corralled that splitter that Moncada swung through for the third strike, there wouldn’t have been that late throw to first base, which wouldn’t have prompted Abreu to come around and score the tying run, which wouldn’t have left Ohtani in a vulnerable position while covering home plate.

Ohtani said he felt “fine” after the game and added that the impact “wasn’t as bad as it actually looked.”

The Angels won’t place him in the lineup on Monday, but the incident seemingly won’t make them any more hesitant to keep using him aggressively.

“Everything we thought he could be” was how Maddon described Ohtani pitching and hitting in the same game for the first time in his major league career. “That’s the complete baseball player — throws 100, hits it well over 100, hits it well over 400 feet. I mean that’s what we’ve been talking about. He just needed the opportunity to do it. … I think he felt liberated, he felt free. He was out there playing baseball.”

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Shohei Ohtani strikes out Yoan Moncada, but the ball gets by the catcher and two runs score after Ohtani is shaken up by a collision at the plate.

Ohtani’s rare talent was best captured by this astonishing first-inning stat: His fastball to Adam Eaton (officially 100.6 mph) was the fastest-thrown pitch of any starting pitcher this season, and his 451-foot home run off Dylan Cease (with an exit velocity of 115.2 mph) was the hardest-hit homer of the season by any player, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

There isn’t much question about Ohtani offensively. He batted .286/.351/.532 in 792 plate appearances from 2018 to 2019, then mashed five home runs in 13 spring training games in 2021. The concerns center around Ohtani’s pitching. He had accumulated only 79 2/3 innings since his astonishing 2016 season in Japan, and many of his recent outings showed an inability to consistently throw strikes. Then came Sunday, which included …

  • Eight pitches thrown at least 100 mph, more than he had accumulated in 12 prior major league starts.

  • Two strikeouts of Yermin Mercedes, who recorded a record eight hits in his first eight at-bats of the season (one of them came on three consecutive sliders, Ohtani’s third-best pitch).

  • Four baserunners through the first four innings against a lineup that stands among the best in the American League.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody who’s that skilled at both things,” White Sox manager Tony La Russa said before the game.

“Oh, he nasty,” White Sox utility man Leury Garcia added afterwards.

Ohtani came from Japan with the promise of becoming the sport’s first two-way player since Babe Ruth stopped pitching, then teased us with two exhilarating months in 2018. What followed was Tommy John surgery, a rare knee procedure, and a nightmare 2020 season that included a 37.80 ERA and a .154 batting average. Ohtani attacked the ensuing offseason with purpose. He trained at Driveline, revamped his diet, altered his weight-training regimen and got into more game-like situations in an effort to fix a delivery that had become inconsistent and a swing that had grown erratic.

When he took the field for his pitching debut on Sunday, the excitement had reached a fever pitch. Maddon’s aggressive approach promoted it, Ohtani’s dynamic spring fueled it and MLB could benefit from it. The industry has become obsessed with a desire to create more excitement, and Ohtani can create that potentially more than any other player. It’s why the answer to whether the Angels should try to use Ohtani as a two-way player was always “of course” — so long as he can remain healthy.

A talent like this should not be restrained.

The Angels clearly agree.



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Seattle Mariners acquire Jake Bauers from Cleveland Indians

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The Seattle Mariners have acquired first baseman Jake Bauers from the Cleveland Indians for a player to be named or cash considerations, it was announced Thursday.

Bauers, who had been designated for assignment by Cleveland, has started 25 of the 43 games in which he’s appeared for the Indians this season, batting .190 with 2 home runs and 6 RBIs.

He was given Cleveland’s starting job despite being outplayed by Bobby Bradley in training camp because he was out of minor league options. Bradley has been recalled.

Bauers is expected to join the Mariners for Thursday’s game in Detroit, and he’ll be back in Cleveland on Friday when Seattle opens a three-game series.

In three major league seasons, Bauers has a .211 average with 25 home runs and 97 RBIs. He did not play for the Indians in 2020, spending the abbreviated season at the club’s alternate training site.

The 25-year-old Bauers was acquired by Cleveland from Tampa Bay in a three-team deal in 2018.

To make room on the roster, the Mariners designated infielder Jack Mayfield for assignment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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MLB Power Rankings Week 10

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Ten weeks into the MLB season, we have the fourth No. 1 team of the 2021 campaign atop our MLB Power Rankings.

Which American League team is playing well enough to bump the San Diego Padres from the top spot? Which National League club managed to pass the Padres in the Senior Circuit? Which National League Central team impressed our voters most as the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers continue to trade division leads? Just how far has a recent offensive slump dropped the New York Yankees down our list? And which struggling team fell to No. 30 in this week’s rankings?

Here is what our eight-voter expert panel decided based on what we’ve seen in the first two-plus months of the season. We also asked ESPN baseball experts David Schoenfield, Bradford Doolittle, Joon Lee, Jesse Rogers and Alden Gonzalez to weigh in with one Week 10 observation based on what they have seen recently for all 30 teams.

Previous rankings: Week 9 | Week 8 | Week 7 | Week 6 | Week 5 | Week 4 | Week 3 | Week 2 | Week 1 | Opening Day


Record: 39-24
Previous ranking: 2

The Rays look like one of the best teams in the sport despite not having any standout player in particular, which is as Rays as it gets. Starter Tyler Glasnow will factor into the All-Star conversation, leading the team with a 2.57 ERA, and Rich Hill has been a great offseason acquisition, with a 0.88 ERA in his last five starts, striking out 31 batters in 30.2 innings pitched. — Lee


Record: 37-24
Previous ranking: 4

With a .617 winning percentage and a run differential that suggests it should be more like .659 and a generally upward trajectory to this season, it might be time to glance down the line and wonder if the White Sox can break the franchise record for wins. Chicago’s mark is 100 by the 1917 club that won the White Sox’s first World Series and also was led in the dugout by Tony LaRussa. We kid! Pants Rowland, in fact, was the skipper of that club and acquired that nickname, we suppose, because he wore pants and must have come from a place where that was a novelty. Tied for second is the 99 wins the 2005 team won under Ozzie Guillen, and that big season was capped with the franchise’s only other World Series title. The Guillen team is tied for second with LaRussa’s 1983 club that won the AL West by 20 games, but lost to Baltimore in the ALCS. To add a second franchise-best team to the list and go on to win it all 38 years later would be a nice bit of historical symmetry for LaRussa and the White Sox franchise. It would also be an unprecedented feat in MLB annals.— Doolittle


Record: 38-23
Previous ranking: 5

The Giants stomached another major injury when Evan Longoria — boasting an adjusted OPS 50% higher than the league average through his first 50 games — was recently diagnosed with a sprained shoulder that will keep him out for several weeks. He joins an injury list that also includes Tommy La Stella, Mike Yastrzemski, Curt Casali, Darin Ruf and Alex Dickerson, among others. The Giants don’t have the position-player depth to necessarily absorb all that — no team does, really — and Longoria’s freak ailment will be their biggest test yet. How they navigate his absence could make or break their resurgent season. — Gonzalez


Record: 37-27
Previous ranking: 1

Among the more surprising elements of this season is that the Padres — still maintaining pace among the best teams in the sport — are simply not hitting. Through their first 60 games, the Padres possessed a .697 OPS that stood nine points below the league average. If you took away Fernando Tatis Jr., that OPS dropped to .666. It’s no secret that the Padres have been carried mostly by their pitchers. But their lineup is just as deep as their pitching staff, and their hitters are among the best at controlling the strike zone. Eventually, one would think, the offense will come alive. In other words: The Padres might not have played their best baseball yet. — Gonzalez


Record: 36-25
Previous ranking: 3

The Dodgers were hit hard by injuries earlier this year, but now, with Tony Gonsolin recently activated off the injured list to fill their fifth-starter slot, they’re almost whole. The only major absentee is Corey Seager, who is trending towards returning from a broken right hand by early July. The Dodgers are currently navigating a soft spot in their schedule, with games against the Pirates, Rangers, Phillies and Diamondbacks — four teams that entered Wednesday a combined 54 games below .500 — before starting another highly anticipated series against the Padres on June 21. — Gonzalez


Record: 37-25
Previous ranking: 6

Boston bounced back from dropping three of four to the Astros by sweeping the Yankees in New York. The return of Chris Sale from Tommy John surgery looms as the left-hander has started to throw bullpen sessions. Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers rank in the top 3 at their respective positions in fWAR, while Nathan Eovaldi is in the top 10 among MLB starters in the same category — ahead of Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw and Yu Darvish. — Lee


Record: 37-26
Previous ranking: 9

No one player jumps off the page, but the Oakland lineup is packed with steady contributors. The team’s three best hitters so far are Mark Canha, Ramon Laureano and Matt Olson, with strong contributions from Tony Kemp. The team could take a turn for the better if Matt Chapman can pick up his performance at the plate after serving as a lineup anchor the past few seasons. — Lee


Record: 35-26
Previous ranking: 7

We admonished Jose Altuve in this space earlier this season for getting off to a slow start on the heels of his career-worst 2020 season. It wasn’t to rail on him so much as to point out the concerns that go with an undersized second baseman with so much mileage on his tires. Since we did that, we ought to acknowledge that Altuve has gone back to being one of baseball’s best players. Since May 6, he’s hit .331/.418/.545 with eight homers. Now Altuve’s 2020 stat line looks much less like a trend than a strange blip on the radar. — Doolittle


Record: 34-27
Previous ranking: 15

Milwaukee is the beneficiary of a light schedule in June, and the Brewers are taking advantage of it. Their ERA over the past week is tops in the NL and Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta easily give Milwaukee the best starter trio in the division. Though they still struggle to produce consistent damage at the plate, it didn’t stop them from sweeping a four-game series with the Diamondbacks and then keeping that winning streak going in Cincinnati. — Rogers


Record: 35-27
Previous ranking: 8

Some regressions were expected after a strong month of May and complete domination of their opponents at home. It came in the form of a west coast road trip where the Cubs dropped three of four to the San Francisco Giants. But the story of the team right now is 29-year-old Patrick Wisdom. He became the second player in more than 100 years to hit at least eight home runs in his first 10 starts with a team. David Ross rightly said Wisdom is “carrying them.” — Rogers


Record: 30-24
Previous ranking: 10

Marcus Stroman is quietly pitching great in the shadow of Jacob deGrom, with a 2.41 ERA. He sometimes gets overlooked because his 7.5 K’s/9 is not elite in today’s game, but he has the fourth-highest groundball rate among starters and has allowed two runs or fewer in eight of his 12 starts. — Schoenfield


Record: 31-28
Previous ranking: 12

It’s only the second week of June, but any conversation about the American League MVP should start with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. And while Guerrero deserves plenty of praise, don’t overlook the addition of shortstop Marcus Semien, who continues to bounce back from a poor 2020 campaign after signing a one-year deal with Toronto. — Lee


Record: 32-27
Previous ranking: 14

Cleveland cut bait with hard-hitting, underachieving first baseman Jake Bauers this week, designating him for assignment. He could certainly wind up returning if he clears waivers, but it might be time for Bauers to get some new voices in his head. As for Cleveland, the decision means that perennial power prospect Bobby Bradley should get a long look as Terry Francona’s semi-regular first baseman. With a single, two doubles and a homer over his first three games, Bradley already had a third as many total bases (nine) as Bauers did in 43 contests (28). The issue for Bradley, as with so many young hitters these days, is strikeouts. During his last full minor-league season, Bradley struck out in more than a third of his plate appearances for Triple-A Columbus. — Doolittle


Record: 33-29
Previous ranking: 11

There’s a growing sense of panic in New York, with the Yankees offense ranking among the worst in baseball. Few on the team are hitting other than Aaron Judge. After signing a six-year, $90 million contract this offseason, last year’s MLB batting champ, DJ LeMahieu, looks like a league-average second baseman. Certainly not ideal. — Lee


Record: 29-30
Previous ranking: 16

Freddie Freeman‘s .229/.355/.443 line entering Wednesday’s game is far below his MVP numbers of 2020, but according to Statcast measures, he’s been one of the unluckiest hitters in the majors based on his quality of contact, with a wOBA (weighted on-base average) 70 points below his expected wOBA. His expected average and slugging percentage are both in the 90th-plus percentile. Look for more of those hard-hit balls to start falling. — Schoenfield


Record: 32-30
Previous ranking: 13

Sometimes things in baseball are predictable. The Cardinals were motoring along in first place, then got hit with injuries on the mound, and haven’t won since. Jack Flaherty is one of the latest to go down, leaving St. Louis vulnerable at the top of the rotation. Carlos Martinez has been a disaster, and their offense has done virtually nothing to make up for the pitching woes. This is a team in trouble. — Rogers


Record: 29-31
Previous ranking: 18

Going into spring training, one of the biggest questions surrounding the Royals was whether Adalberto Mondesi could build on his big finish to the 2020 season. To refresh your memory: Mondesi hit .356/.408/.667 during 24 September games with six homers and 16 stolen bases. That’s MVP-level performance. The good news is that Mondesi’s performance has kept right on shining, as he’s hit .360 with an 1.080 OPS this season. The bad news is that the big question was the wrong one. We should have been asking if Mondesi is too injury prone to ever reach his potential. Mondesi suffered an oblique injury during spring training, didn’t make his season debut until May 25, put up the above sparkling numbers of nine games, then wound up back on the IL with a hamstring strain. If Kansas City is going to emerge as a surprise postseason contender, Mondesi must figure out a way to stay on the field. — Doolittle


Record: 29-31
Previous ranking: 19

The National League is loaded with pitchers having big seasons, but don’t overlook Zack Wheeler, who has been on a strikeout binge with 44 in 28.2 innings over his past four starts. And note that he went at least seven innings in all four of those outings. His strikeout rate is up from 18.4% last season to easily a career high of 31.1%. — Schoenfield


Record: 29-30
Previous ranking: 22

Whoever said hitting is contagious probably didn’t watch the 2021 Cincinnati Reds. The Reds are a two man show right now. Nick Castellanos and Jesse Winker are dominating, but it hasn’t really rubbed off on the rest of the lineup — though Jonathan India is coming off a good week. Having said all that, the Reds just swept the Cardinals in a four-game road series, so whatever they were doing, it was enough. But do they have any staying power? Remains to be seen. — Rogers


Record: 26-35
Previous ranking: 17

A 1-8 road trip to Boston, Toronto and Pittsburgh has put the Marlins in a deep hole. The record is disappointing given how well Trevor Rogers, Sandy Alcantara and Pablo Lopez have pitched, with a 2.71 combined ERA. Despite that, the Marlins are just 19-19 in games started by those three. — Schoenfield


Record: 31-32
Previous ranking: 24

With Jarred Kelenic 0 for his last 39, the Mariners had little choice but to send him back down to the minors. Chris Davis owns the longest hitless streak for a non-pitcher, going 0-for-54 for the Orioles, but that was over two seasons (2010 -19), as was Eugenio Velez’s 0-for-46 in 2010 -11. According to Elias, the longest in-season streaks are the 0-for-45s from Craig Counsell in 2011, Dave Campbell in 1973 and Bill Bergen in 1909. — Schoenfield


Record: 25-33
Previous ranking: 20

As the Nationals continue to slide out of the race, they’re going to have to put together a big winning stretch in the next three weeks or Mike Rizzo will have to consider unloading talent for the first time in his tenure. Max Scherzer, Brad Hand, Daniel Hudson and Josh Harrison are the free agents with some trade value, or lots of it in Scherzer’s case. Kyle Schwarber has a mutual option for 2022 and hasn’t been hitting better, so he’s a possibility as well. — Schoenfield


Record: 30-32
Previous ranking: 24

Shohei Ohtani continues to dominate — on both sides — and Anthony Rendon might finally be turning the corner, but the most encouraging development for the Angels in recent days is probably Justin Upton, whose bat has come alive since moving into the leadoff spot. In his first 14 games hitting first, Upton batted .327/.410/.769 with 11 extra-base hits, six of them homers. His resurgence is helping the Angels creep back towards .500 as they wait for Mike Trout‘s strained right calf to heal. — Gonzalez


Record: 24-37
Previous ranking: 21

The Twins were 11-19 and already struggling when Byron Buxton last played for them on May 6. Though Buxton was enjoying an MVP-caliber season, Minnesota went 13-17 during its first 30 games without him, a period ending with Tuesday’s loss to the Yankees. That’s better, but not nearly the level of winning the Twins needed to crawl out of their early hole. Buxton, after recovering from the hip injury that put him on the IL, was sent out on a rehab assignment this week, which has gone well. He appears to be on track to rejoin the Twins in the next few days. During his absence, Minnesota’s chances at the postseason dropped from about one-in-three to one-in-10. His return is welcome, but it may already be too late to save the season. — Doolittle


Record: 25-36
Previous ranking: 26

One thing progressive organizations do in baseball in 2021 is turn journeymen into good players through targeted MLB-level development. This is not something that’s been a strength for Detroit over the years, but it is an area in which there was hope for improvement when A.J. Hinch was brought in to manage the club and build a coaching staff. It’s just one player, but the emergence of catcher/outfielder Eric Haase is a good sign that the Tigers are getting better at this process. Haase entered the season with a .122 average over 53 career plate appearances through the age of 27, though he’s been in professional baseball since 2011. This season, Haase had an OPS of 1.014 over his first 78 plate appearances, spurring Hinch to vow to play him as often as possible. — Doolittle


Record: 25-37

Previous ranking: 27

The Rockies are expected to activate Trevor Story off the injured list on Thursday, essentially starting the countdown to his final few weeks with the franchise that drafted him 45th overall 10 years ago. Story was batting only .255/.322/.424 through 50 games until being placed on the shelf with elbow tightness. Within the next seven or so weeks, Story will likely become the second franchise pillar to be traded in less than five months, following in the footsteps of Nolan Arenado. The Rockies have no choice but to trade Story, who will enter a star-studded free-agent class of shortstops over the offseason. This is a mess of their own making. — Gonzalez


Record: 24-39
Previous ranking: 25

The Rangers may be signaling they’re open for trade deadline business after DFA-ing Khris Davis this week. Joey Gallo should draw interest, if you can put up with the strikeouts. He leads the AL in K’s but also in walks. He’s coming off a decent week at the plate where he only struck out twice while producing a 1.250 OPS. — Rogers


Record: 23-37
Previous ranking: 29

First, they botch an easy out at first base on the Javy Baez play, and now, Ke’Bryan Hayes misses first base on a home run. What else could go wrong for Pittsburgh? The Pirates will go into trading season ready to deal as the rebuild continues. — Rogers


Record: 22-39
Previous ranking: 30

Cedric Mullins is performing on another level. The Orioles outfielder, who reached base in 11 consecutive plate appearances over the weekend, currently leads all American League batters in hits. With John Means landing on the injured list with a shoulder strain, Mullins is at least one reason left to tune in to Orioles games. — Lee


Record: 20-43
Previous ranking: 28

The D-backs will undoubtedly need to unload players before the end of July. The question is: How aggressively will they do so? Pending free agents such as Eduardo Escobar, Asdrubal Cabrera and Josh Reddick can certainly be had. But what about someone like Carson Kelly, who has emerged as one of the game’s best young catchers? Or a young starter like Zac Gallen, assuming he returns relatively soon from a sprained elbow? Or Ketel Marte, who is signed to a very team-friendly contract? Given the state of the NL West, where the Dodgers, Padres and Giants all loom as long-term threats, would the D-backs go into a full-scale rebuild? Given their talent-rich farm system, that rebuild might not take so long. — Gonzalez

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San Diego Padres’ Yu Darvish honors former Chicago Cubs teammate Anthony Rizzo with walk-up song

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Yu Darvish‘s name was announced at Petco Park to begin the bottom of the third inning on Wednesday afternoon, and “Intoxicated,” a popular house song by Martin Solveig and GTA, blared over the speakers.

Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who famously uses that song as his walk-up music, threw his arms up in the air in mock disgust. Darvish, the former Cubs starter in his first season with the San Diego Padres, cracked a big smile as he approached the batter’s box.

Darvish, making his first start against the Cubs since an offseason trade, wasn’t trolling Rizzo.

He was paying homage.

“I used that song because it was Rizzo who kind of took care of me when things weren’t really working my way in Chicago,” Darvish said through his interpreter after the Padres’ 3-1 loss. “It was, in a way, to say ‘thank you’ to him. And obviously I have a good relationship with him.”

Darvish continued his remarkable season in the rematch against his former team, allowing only two runs over seven innings to put his ERA at 2.28 through his first 13 starts with his new team. But the Padres, collectively struggling offensively in recent weeks, lost for the 10th time in their last 17 games.

Darvish, 34, finished second in National League Cy Young Award voting last year and has been among the game’s best pitchers since the start of the 2020 season, going 14-5 with a 2.15 ERA, 185 strikeouts and only 33 walks in 155 innings.

Darvish’s time with the Cubs got off to a rough start. He joined them on a six-year, $126 million contract in February of 2018 and was limited to only eight starts that season. But he turned it around in 2019, posting a 3.98 ERA in 178 2/3 innings, then reached another level in the pandemic-shortened season.

“Looking back, I had some ups and downs in Chicago,” Darvish said. “Good times and bad times, looking in retrospect. But what I find is that the fans, the organization, and even the media members there — I had tremendous amount of support to get through my years there. So there’s a sense of, I guess, gratefulness there.”

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