Greg Barasch knew where the ball was going.
A noted “ballhawk” who travels to major league stadiums seeking to catch as many home runs as he can, Barasch positioned himself behind the high-tops and picnic tables on the elevated left-field pavilion at TD Ballpark as Shohei Ohtani came to the plate in the fifth inning Friday night.
It was the perfect spot to catch Ohtani’s opposite-field home run, Barasch sticking up a glove to snag the ball 422 feet away from home plate.
“I was planning on that,” said the 31-year-old New Yorker, who was wearing an Angels cap but claims no allegiance to the team. “He goes oppo a lot.”
Indeed, it was Ohtani at his best — displaying a power-to-all-fields approach that even non-Angels fans have come to expect.
Though it remains unclear when the two-way star might make his next start as a pitcher — he is battling a blister on the middle finger of his right throwing hand that will keep him off the mound until at least next week — Ohtani hasn’t missed a beat at the plate, turning in a season-high four RBIs in the Angels’ 7-1 win over the Toronto Blue Jays.
Ohtani also cleared the bases in the second inning with a three-run double high off the right-field wall, coming within a few feet of a grand slam even after getting out in front of a changeup and making contact as his left hand started coming off the bat.
“If he can get the barrel to the ball, man, anything can happen,” manager Joe Maddon said, adding: “His mechanics are so much better than they had been last year. There’s so many good things going on for him right
Ohtani, who is now batting .300 with three home runs, eight RBIs and a 1.044 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, also said he said he feels like he’s back at peak physical fitness after he got “a little sick” following his first COVID vaccination last Wednesday.
“The last few games,” he said through his interpreter, “I’m back, 100% healthy.”
Here are four other observations from Friday’s game.
Ohtani wasn’t the only hot Angels hitter Friday.
Mike Trout had a double, single and walk to improve upon his team-best batting average (.429) and OPS (1.425).
Jared Walsh launched his third homer of the year to right field in the fifth inning, upping his OPS to 1.298.
Catcher Max Stassi had a single and walk, keeping his OPS above 1.000.
And Anthony Rendon had two hits and a walk, as the Angels improved to 6-2 to match the franchise’s best eight-game start to a season.
“The common theme is we see a lot of pitches,” Maddon said, adding: “That’s the main ingredient, we’re willing to pass the baton.”
Heaney’s shutout innings
After struggling in his season debut, left-hander Andrew Heaney made a change for his second outing of the season Friday: He went back to throwing from the first base side of the rubber.
“It’s a comfort zone, but also mechanically it keeps me where I need to be,” said Heaney, who has shifted sides of the rubber throughout his career. “I think there are positives to being on either side. But ultimately, the positives outweigh [more] when I’m on the first base side.”
The change seemed to work, as Heaney pitched six shutout innings with nine strikeouts and only three hits and two walks.
At one point, he retired 12 batters in a row. And he dominated with his fastball throughout, throwing the heater 62 times in 93 pitches to all parts of the plate.
“I know how good I can be when I have all three pitches going,” Heaney said, “but it starts with the first one.”
Fowler injures left knee but appears to be OK
Dexter Fowler left the game on a cart after stepping awkwardly on second base in the second, but suffered only a minor left knee contusion that Maddon expects will be a short-term injury.
“It’s not that bad, as we thought it could have been,” Maddon said, adding that the Angels likely won’t even need to make a roster move. “He’s actually responding really well.”
Fowler hurt himself after hustling to second base to beat a potential inning-ending forceout play with the bases loaded, allowing the Angels’ first run to score and setting up Ohtani’s three-run double in the next at-bat.
“He hurt himself, and I don’t think it’s bad, fortunately,” Maddon said. “But wow, that play there won the game tonight.”
Blister updates for Ohtani, Cobb
Maddon still hasn’t specified when Ohtani might be able to make his next start on the mound. The right-hander threw long toss with a bandage on his blistered finger Friday and will still need to throw a bullpen session with the bandage on, then another with the bandage off, before he will be cleared for his second start of the season.
“I want to believe that by taking care of it now, later on the year it’s going to not pop up again just based on prevention,” Maddon said.
Maddon said Ohtani’s blister was “bothering him a little bit at the end” of his first regular-season outing against the Chicago White Sox on Sunday. Had the Angels stuck to their normal six-man rotation schedule, Ohtani’s next turn up would have been this coming Sunday’s series finale against the Blue Jays. But even if it had been a playoff situation, Maddon said Ohtani’s blister was too bothersome to pitch Sunday.
“We’re looking to give it enough time to heal,” Maddon said when asked how the Angels can prevent the blister from becoming a season-long issue.
Added Ohtani: “I think I’ll be able to go sooner rather than later.”
Maddon also revealed Friday that right-hander Alex Cobb’s second start of the year was pushed back to Sunday — flipping spots in the rotation with left-hander José Quintana, who will pitch Saturday — because of his own blister issue.
“Nothing immense,” Maddon said of Cobb, who was originally lined up to pitch Saturday. “We just wanted to give him one more day.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.