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MLB: Shohei Ohtani faces Blue Jays as Angels hope mini-slump behind him

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Shohei Ohtani will be on the mound and in the lineup Thursday when the Los Angeles Angels play the Toronto Blue Jays in Anaheim, Calif.

Ohtani, the pitcher, has found a groove, allowing two runs or fewer in eight of his past nine starts, the only blemish coming June 30 when he gave up seven runs in two-thirds of an inning against the New York Yankees.

Ohtani (6-1, 2.93 ERA) got a no-decision in that game, his only loss of the season coming May 28 against the Oakland Athletics.

As the season has moved forward, Ohtani has been effective at reducing his pitch count by throwing more strikes. He didn’t walk any batters in either of his past two starts, and has issued just one walk over his past 26 innings.

But being around the plate more also has a down side.

“It’s give or take,” Ohtani said. “I’ve been giving up less walks but I’ve been giving up more hits.”

According to Angels manager Joe Maddon, Ohtani’s improved control starts with his fastball command.

“I always look at that,” Maddon said. “If he knows where his fastball’s going, he’s going to be pretty pitch-efficient.”

However, Ohtani, the hitter, has struggled lately.

Though he still leads the majors in homers, including his 38th Wednesday, it was his first home run since July 28.

He had just one hit in 15 at-bats before going 1-for-3 in the 10-2 loss to the Blue Jays.

Ohtani will be opposed on the mound by right-hander Jose Berrios (8-5, 3.23), who will be making his third start for the Blue Jays since joining the club after a trade from the Minnesota Twins on July 30.

Ohtani never has faced the Blue Jays, and Berrios is 2-3 with a 4.66 ERA in five starts against the Angels.

Berrios is 1-0 with an 0.75 ERA in two starts with Toronto, allowing just one run in 12 innings. He threw six scoreless innings in his Blue Jays debut against the Kansas City Royals on Aug. 1, earning a victory, then gave up one run in six innings of a no-decision against Boston Red Sox last Saturday.

After nearly nine years in the Twins organization, Berrios admitted he put pressure on himself to impress his new teammates.

“Watching those guys do what they’ve been doing so far has motivated me to go out there and do my work, put (in) my 100 percent effort and try to get every win we can get,” he said.

The Blue Jays overall have been hot of late, winning 12 of their past 15 games. One big reason for their success is outfielder George Springer, who has found a groove after missing 66 of the club’s first 70 games because of a quad injury.

Springer is hitting .373 (22 for 59) with seven homers and 19 RBIs in his past 15 games. And he’s been particularly good in the leadoff spot, where he’s hitting .330 (31 for 94) this season, compared to just .231 (18 for 78) batting elsewhere in the lineup.

“I was groomed to hit first my whole career,” Springer said. “I understand how to navigate it a little bit. I know I may get myself out sometimes or not have the at-bat I want to have, but I just understand it’s the same thing as any other at-bat. I just happen to be hitting first.”

–Field Level Media

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