A’s wait out Ohtani, Trout and emerge with 2-1 win over Angels
OAKLAND — The Athletics are unbeaten and tied atop the American League West. With one of 162 precincts reporting, all things are possible.
A two-run eighth-inning rally fueled by Esteury Ruiz with runs driven in by veterans Tony Kemp and Aledmys Diaz enabled the A’s to beat the Los Angeles Angels 2-1 Monday night.
Rookie starter Kyle Muller didn’t get the win, but pitched five solid innings and was backed by four innings of scoreless relief.
“The best day I’ve ever had on a baseball field,” Muller said.
It sent a Coliseum crowd of 26,825 home happy — the ones that weren’t there to cheer for Angels starting pitcher and DH Shohei Ohtani, anyway.
Exactly what it all means for the A’s and their undersized payroll remains to be seen. But here’s what we learned on Opening Night after sending the Angels to their sixth straight Opening Day loss:
Kyle Muller might be a dude
For the uninitiated, a “dude” is a game-changer, a player who can influence an entire roster through his performance and persona.
The first rookie starter in Oakland history to make a start on Opening Day, Muller gave up one run in five innings and the Angels were fortunate to get that one. He walked one, struck out three and threw 72 pitches, 44 for strikes. After getting Mike Trout to line out on a diving catch by Ruiz and then striking out Ohtani, Muller even let out a primal yell coming off the field.
“I’ve never yelled after the first inning before in baseball but I was hyped,” Muller said.
At 6-foot-7, 250 pounds, Muller put away hitters when he got ahead and rallied from behind in the count against others.
Kemp, who said Muller has been dubbed “Moose,” was impressed.
“The lights can be too bright for some rookies but he came in and handled it well,” Kemp said. “He’s a mound presence out there. The way he threw his slider today was phenomenal.”
Muller was even OK with coming out after five innings after manager Mark Kotsay explained the Angels batting order was turning over for the third time and with Friday off, he had plenty of arms in the bullpen ready and waiting.
The only run Muller surrendered was on a run-scoring single by No. 9 batter Logan O’Hoppe in the fifth. It brought home Gio Urshela, who reached on an infield single and made it to second when Kemp threw wildly to first.
Kotsay’s report card?
“If you told me Muller was going to go five innings, only walk one, get a couple of punch outs, I would have taken it and I’ll take it going forward,” Kotsay said.
In reality, Kotsay wants more and based on Muller’s first start, could get more. Ideally, he becomes the staff anchor that routinely gets into the seventh and even beyond.
TIE GAME TK pic.twitter.com/7KGB6vMx4j
— Oakland A’s (@Athletics) March 31, 2023
Ruiz is getting places in a hurry
Trout, the second hitter of the game, hit a sinking liner to right center that looked like potential extra bases. Until Ruiz caught it with a headlong dive. Keep in mind he’s a converted infielder.
At the plate, Ruiz bounced a single through the right side against losing pitcher Aaron Loup (0-1) to lead off the eighth. Rather than have Ruiz steal and give the new larger bases and pickoff restrictions a try, Kotsay had Kemp attempt to bunt.
The reasoning? Loup is left-hander and Kotsay was wary of a first-read steal that would result in a pickoff.
Kemp didn’t get the bunt down initially, and Kotsay took the bunt off and Ruiz stayed anchored to first base. When Kemp doubled to right center, Ruiz dashed from first to home easily ahead of the throw.
Score one for the manager.
“You got to see it first hand on Day 1,” Kotsay said. “We’ve seen flashes in spring training, catches he’s made. A great way to start his career in center field. Offensively, he got us going there.”
Diaz poked a single to left off Ryan Tepera to bring in the second run.
Trout, Ohtani and . . . . then what?
Ohtani was dominant through six innings, with 10 strikeouts and three walks. One of the few solidly hit balls was from Jace Peterson, who hit a fifth-inning screamer to right which ended up as a “look what I found” stab by Hunter Renfroe for an out.
Hunter Renfroe, No Look Catch.
When you impress Shohei, you’ve done something. pic.twitter.com/7JH3oO2yAO
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 31, 2023
The Angels’ two-way star also singled and walked twice, once intentionally.
As for Trout, he opened with the liner that Ruiz caught, followed with a walk, hit a fly to the fence in left that died in the cold air and then hit a line smash to left for the second out in the eighth. Productive at-bats by a generational player but zero results on this night.
The Angels, as was the case much of last season, had little else.
Bullpen relay pays off
The A’s sent Zach Jackson out for the fifth, Domingo Acevedo in the sixth, newcomer and winning pitcher Trevor May (1-0) in the eighth and finally Dany Jimenez for the save in the ninth.
Everyone did their job, but this area bears watching. Kotsay is hesitant to name a closer, looking at each game as a 27-out challenge and mixing and matching based on previous usage as well as matchups.
Jimenez did what he did on occasion last season. He needed a harrowing 27 pitches to complete the inning, but ended up a winner, retiring Gio Urshela on a fly to right to end the game.
The closer was Jimenez, but expect it at some point to be May. Or Jeurys Familia. While it’s not impossible to do closer-by-committee, having someone to shut the door consistently in the ninth is always the preferred method.
Pitch clock and the rule changes
The game was completed in a tidy 2:30 and there were no violations by pitchers working too slow or batters to lazy getting in the box. Muller, who pitched with a clock in the Atlanta organization in the minors last season, had no issues. Neither did Ohtani or the parade of relievers.
Each team had one stolen base, with Taylor Ward swiping second in the eighth inning for the Angels and Seth Brown in the eighth for the A’s.
— Laureano struck out three times and left five runners on base, including hitting a sharp ground ball into a double play to end the eighth that could have broken open the game.
— Brown went 2-for-4 with a fourth-inning double against Ohtani. It sent Diaz, who also had two hits, to third base with just one out. Ohtani then struck out both Jesus Aguilar and Laureano to end the threat.
— This gem was unearthed by Athletics baseball info manager Mike Selleck: Ryan Noda became the second American League, Federal League or National League player to make his MLB debut on his birthday on Opening Day. The other? Jess Doyle, Detroit, on April 14, 1925. Noda entered as a pinch runner in the eighth and played at first base in the ninth.
— The A’s are 9-21 on Opening Day dating back to 1994.