Fortunes Swing Wildly in AL West as Athletics Win, But Astros, Rangers & Angels Develop Starting Pitcher Issues

John Hickey

It was a good day for the A’s, a very good day by any way you reckon it, and it would have been even without a win over the Angels.

Oakland did get that win, however, 6-4, getting five runs of Angels’ comeback hopeful Shohei Ohtani in the first inning, then hanging on until Liam Hendriks could close It out.

Baseball is all about starting pitching, and Oakland’s competition in the American League West took a beating in that regard. Every contender in the West save the A’s got bad news about one of its star starters.

The Astros, who already had to deal with the loss of 20-game winner Gerrit Cole moving to the Yankees in the off season, lost Justin Verlander for the immediate future, possibly for the season.

The Rangers saw Corey Kluber leave Sunday’s game against the Rockies with a shoulder problem after one inning.

And the Angels saw Ohtani, making his first start since September of 2018, face six batters, giving up three hits and three walks, leaving getting no outs and giving up five runs. Known for his high velocity pitches, Ohtani hit 94, 95 mph a couple of times but mostly was in the 91-mph range, and with almost no control.

Meanwhile, while the A’s have starter A.J. Puk on the injured list, he’s resuming throwing and Jesus Luzardo looked dominant in a Saturday relief appearance and is probably less than 10 days away from a return to the starting rotation.

“The last time we saw (Ohtani, in 2018), he was throwing a little hard and there were more splitters,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said after his club moved to 2-1. “Maybe he’s not all the way there yet.”

Talking to the Angels’ media, Ohtani said he’s not worried about his velocity, suggesting it will come as he builds up strength.

“Looking back, I felt like I couldn’t throw with all my strength,” Ohtani said. “That’s one of the things I regret.”

He opened the game by giving up a single to Marcus Semien, then walked three in a row, forcing in a run. That brought up Mark Canha, who had never faced the right-hander from Japan who plays in the outfield or as DH when he’s not pitching.

“I watched some film,” Canha said. “He wasn’t throwing the splitter as much as I thought. And his velocity was down a little bit. There was word that he was not built up to what he was in the past. It was kind of one of those things where you just had to see.”

Canha went to the plate prepared to swing at the first pitch. He didn’t. Instead he worked the count full, then drove a two-run single to right-center. Robbie Grossman followed with an RBI hit and a Vimael Machin double-play grounder made it 5-0 and led to Ohtani’s exit.

Early reports said Houston would be without Verlander for the season with elbow problems. However, manager Dusty Baker tempered that, saying the Astros’ ace has a forearm strain, will be shut down for a few weeks, then will be reevaluated. Verlander backed up that assessment himself on Twitter.

The Astros, who won 107 games last year, 10 more than the runner-up A’s, are going to find the defense of their West title will be much more difficult without Verlander and Cole, who won 41 games between them.

Kluber was supposed to solidify a modest Rangers rotation. But after a scoreless first inning in which he threw just 18 pitches, he had to be replaced. Manager Chris Woodward didn’t offer an update after the game, but he indicated a level of concern in the organization that this could be serious. The Rangers can’t afford him to be out long.

Kluber, who likely would have faced the A’s when the Rangers come to Oakland after the A’s upcoming road trip, felt tightness in his first few pitches, according to reports, and it only worsened as the inning moved forward. He faced just three hitters.

Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3

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