Angels made statement keeping Shohei Ohtani. Then he made a bigger one vs. Detroit Tigers

Detroit Free Press

The biggest question in baseball leading up to the trade deadline was finally answered Wednesday night. Barring any last-minute surprises, Shohei Ohtani will be staying put with the Los Angeles Angels.

But on Thursday afternoon, Ohtani put on a show never seen in the 123-year history of Major League Baseball.

Because Wednesday’s game at Comerica Park was rained out, Ohtani was picked to start at pitcher against the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the straight doubleheader. For the first time without trade rumors looming, the pending free agent was in in complete control on the mound, allowing just one hit and throwing a complete game shutout for the first time in his career.

“It feels even better, both personally and as a team standpoint,” Ohtani said in Japanese, which was translated by Ippei Mizuhara. “First game of a doubleheader, got to save the bullpen.”

Ohtani threw 111 pitches. His pitch count had Angels manager Phil Nevin a little weary of letting him finish the ninth inning.

“I kind of gave him a look after the eighth and he just told me I’m finishing,” Nevin said.

Ohtani, an All-Star this year for his hitting, went 0-for-5 at the place in Game 1. But in the nightcap, he smashed a two-run home run to left field in the top of the second inning.

A complete game shutout and a two-run home run would’ve been more than enough to give the Angels confidence in their decision to push towards the playoffs as well as make the other 31 teams jealous that they couldn’t trade for him.

But Ohtani wasn’t done.

The three-time All-Star and 2021 MVP hammered another home run to center field to extend their lead to five, all but guaranteeing an Angels sweep. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Ohtani became the first player to throw a shutout in one game and hit a home run in the other game of a doubleheader.

“The thing is, with him performing at this level, when there’s so much focus on one person to be great and continue to be great as he does, only the mentally strong are able to do that,” Nevin said. “And that’s what impresses me most about him.”

More: Detroit Tigers’ Lakeland 2024 spring schedule announced

Following that second home run, Ohtani appeared to grab his side and was later removed from the game with cramps. Nevin confirmed postgame it was nothing serious and he should be fine as the Angels visit Toronto for a weekend series.

Ohtani, who made his MLB debut back in 2018 and was AL Rookie of the Year, has turned heads all over the world with his ability to both pitch and hit exceedingly well in the majors. He currently leads the AL in home runs with 38, has 80 RBIs and holds a .298 batting average. He also has a 9-5 pitching record and a 3.43 ERA.

He promises to garner a record-setting contract in free agency this offseason. All the more reason for the Angels to try to trade him. Except Angels GM Perry Minasian said Thursday that’s not in the plans.

“I think I made it pretty clear that he wasn’t going anywhere,” Minasian said. “I don’t know if anybody believed me. It’s not somebody we wanted to move. This is a special player having a unique season with a team that has a chance to win.”

As things currently stand, the Angels are 3½ games behind in the wild card race and the decision to keep Ohtani only solidifies the team’s commitment to making the playoffs. It’s unclear at this time if Ohtani will re-sign with the Angels, who have yet to reach the postseason with the dual-threat star, or take his talents elsewhere.

“We want him here,” Nevin said. “We want to win with him. We know how much he wants to win here and that was kind of like the first vote of confidence if you will in the trust that we can win with this group. The fact that we know he’s gonna be here and we get a chance to not only have a great teammate with us and someone that we love and care about, (there’s) obviously what he does for us on the field.”

While Ohtani will be with the Angels through the rest of this season, he and the team have been silent on talks of re-signing for the 2024 season. With trade talks allegedly over, his focus remains on taking the Angels to the playoffs.

More: MLB trade deadline: Detroit Tigers have obvious candidates, but who else could be moved?

“From the beginning, my plan was to finish strong this season with the Angels so nothing is really going to change mentally, but all the people talking about the trades, that’s going to be all gone, so I feel like I could just focus on taking this team to the playoffs,” Ohtani said.

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