The Oakland Athletics will hope another newcomer has as much success against the visiting Los Angeles Angels as a trio enjoyed on Opening Day when the American League West rivals continue a three-game series Saturday afternoon.
Seriously handcuffed by Shohei Ohtani for six innings, the A’s rode the strong starting pitching of Kyle Muller and key eighth-inning hits by Esteury Ruiz and Aledmys Diaz to a come-from-behind, 2-1 victory Thursday. The teams had Friday off.
Hoping to follow in the footsteps of Muller, who held the Angels to one run on four hits in five innings, Oakland will send right-hander Shintaro Fujinami to the mound to square off with Angels lefty Patrick Sandoval.
Fujinami, signed out of Japan over the winter, will be making his Major League Baseball regular-season debut after going 3-0 with a 3.86 ERA in five starts in the spring.
There had been speculation that the A’s would match up Fujinami against longtime friend Ohtani on Opening Day, but Oakland manager Mark Kotsay plans to ease the 6-foot-6 rookie into his first American season.
For starters, he will pitch only on Saturdays.
“We feel strongly about keeping him in that routine,” Kotsay said, explaining that Fujinami often pitched on a week’s rest in Japan. “There is a lot of change going on already for Fuji, so we want to try to at least keep something as consistent as possible and that’s his routines.”
Muller wasn’t the only newcomer to impress the 26,805 in attendance in Oakland on Thursday.
Ruiz, a speedster slotted ninth in the lineup as a second leadoff man, got the A’s rally going in the eighth with a two-strike single as the first batter to face Angels left-hander Aaron Loup.
Ruiz scored easily to tie the game when Tony Kemp followed with a double, and Kemp in turn sprinted home with the eventual game-winning run two batters later when Diaz singled to left.
Ruiz came to the A’s in the offseason from the Milwaukee Brewers in a three-team deal that saw Oakland lose star catcher Sean Murphy to the Atlanta Braves. Diaz left the world champion Houston Astros as a free agent for Oakland’s two-year offer.
While the Angels have never seen Fujinami, the A’s have seen plenty of Sandoval in his four big-league seasons. He’s started eight games against Oakland, going 2-3 with a 1.84 ERA.
He’s been particularly tough in Oakland, where he has pitched to a 0.87 ERA in four career starts, striking out 17 in 20 2/3 innings.
Sandoval had a brilliant spring, with a 1.80 ERA in two starts.
The Angels’ highlight on Opening Day was a remarkable, no-look catch by right fielder Hunter Renfroe on a line drive by Jace Peterson that appeared to be already over his head.
The reactions ranged from Ohtani admitting, “I thought it was going to be a hit, 100 percent,” to center fielder Mike Trout saying, “I’ve never seen anything like that from my view.”
“It’s now how we teach it,” Los Angeles manager Phil Nevin joked.
Said Renfroe, “You mess around during (batting practice) making trick catches and things like that, but sometimes you gotta use it when the ball is doing crazy stuff in the outfield. I’m glad I caught it. It’s not how you draw it up.”
–Field Level Media