Griffin Canning's gem, Shohei Ohtani's two doubles: 5 takeaways from Angels' win over Dodgers

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Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher Griffin Canning throws against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the first inning of a baseball game, Friday, May 7, 2021, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher Griffin Canning throws against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the first inning of a baseball game Friday in Anaheim. (AP)

After five straight days of frustration for the Angels, Friday night was like a big sigh of relief.

The team snapped its five-game losing streak with perhaps its most impressive win of the season, knocking off the Dodgers 9-2 at Angel Stadium.

The Angels lineup was opportunistic, collecting a season-high eight extra-base hits and going 6-for-10 with runners in scoring position. On the mound, Griffin Canning delivered 5 ⅔ innings of one-run ball, then passed the baton to reliever Patrick Sandoval for a 3-⅓ inning save.

“All aspects of the game were clicking,” Canning said. “We’re just trying to keep that energy rolling.”

Here are five observations from the Angels’ win in the Freeway Series opener.

Canning feeling confident

As good as Canning looked Friday night — working in and out of trouble to produce the Angels’ fourth-straight start of at least five innings, and no more than two runs — there was a pitch with which he struggled to find his feel.

“Today, I just didn’t really have my slider,” he said after throwing the pitch 20 times and inducing only one swing-and-miss.

Still, Canning found success anyway by locating his fastball, throwing more curveballs and changeups than usual, and executing in key moments to strand six runners.

“This was one of those games I felt I just had to pitch,” Canning said. “They’re a really good team, really good lineup. Any time you fall into any patterns, they’re on top of it. So had to keep mixing it up, throwing different things at them, giving them different looks.”

The last time Canning lacked feel for his slider, it led to his worst start of the year, a 2 ⅓-inning, six-run clunker against the Houston Astros last month.

In two starts since then, the 24-year-old right-hander, who has gone back to throwing with an over-the-head wind-up, has given up only two runs (one earned) in his last 11 innings.

“The difference is him trusting himself, trusting his fastball, being convicted to the pitch,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s not about more time studying video or learning something new or different or working on your mechanics. It’s about conviction a lot of times. I’m really seeing him get after guys a lot more aggressively than he had been.”

Ohtani’s two doubles

Friday was shaping up to be another typically solid game for Shohei Ohtani at the plate. In the second inning, he’d just gotten under a well-struck flyout to center. In the fifth, he made sure not to miss twice, lacing a 104.7-mph line drive over AJ Pollock’s head in left field for an RBI double.

Then, Ohtani found a way to surprise once again. With two outs in the sixth inning, a four-run frame that helped the Angels pull away, Ohtani reached across the plate in a 2-2 count to not only make contact with a pitch six inches outside the zone, but drive it off the top of the right-field wall.

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Ohtani is hitting .278 this year with a .977 on-base-plus-slugging and leads the Angels in home runs (10), doubles (nine) and RBI (26).

“He gets a forceful swing almost every pitch he swings on,” Maddon said. “I saw on the replay, the double to right-center was a little bit outside — a lot outside — and he just One-Hand Fred'd it to the right-center field wall. He’s playing with so much confidence.”

Ohtani wasn’t alone on Friday either, finishing as one of four Angels players — along with David Fletcher, who had three hits and three RBI, Mike Trout and José Iglesias — with multiple hits.

Butera behind the plate

It wasn’t until 5:15 p.m. on Friday evening, less than 90 minutes before first pitch, that Canning even met his starting catcher for the night.

Earlier in the day, the Angels acquired veteran Drew Butera from the Texas Rangers for cash considerations, in need of another backstop with Max Stassi (concussion) on the injured list and Anthony Bemboom (back) unavailable to be recalled.

Immediately upon his arrival, Butera was thrown into the fire, hitting an early double and receiving postgame praise for his work behind the plate.

“We were in rhythm from the get-go,” Canning said. “[Before the game], just kind of briefly talked about some targets I wanted on certain pitches. Other than that, it’s the same game we’ve played our whole lives. He did an awesome job.”

A 12-year veteran who previously played with the Angels in 2015, Butera was catching his first big-league game of 2021.

“I was so impressed,” Maddon said. “Even on the mound visits, he’s so much in the present tense. He knows exactly what he’s doing. I thought he received really well."

Weight lifted for Taylor Ward

Albert Pujols’ departure from the big-league roster on Thursday did more than simply allow Jared Walsh to move back to first base.

It also opened up a spot in right field — the position Walsh had been filling since Dexter Fowler’s season-ending ACL tear — for a host of players in the organization looking for an opportunity.

On Friday, Taylor Ward took advantage, hitting his first MLB home run since September 2019 to give the Angels their first lead in the bottom of the second inning.

“It felt like a huge weight had been lifted,” said Ward, a former first-round pick who has hit only .210 with a .632 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 309 major-league plate appearances. “At that moment, I could just go play. I just want to keep feeling that over and over."

Though he didn’t make the opening day roster, Ward impressed during spring training, playing both corner infield and outfield spots — in addition to some side work as a catcher — while also developing a flatter swing that better matches the plane of each pitch.

“It’s a much more professional swing that’s going to carry him forward,” Maddon said. “We all like this guy a lot. He’s playing a really respectable right field. We may see him at first base at some point. He’s very motivated. You can’t work more diligently than he does. So that was not a surprise.”

Sandoval flashes changeup

Maddon gave marks to Sandoval’s changeup following the left-hander’s 3 ⅓-inning, one-run relief appearance Friday, calling it an “outstanding” pitch after Sandoval threw it 20 times in his 52-pitch outing.

Maddon said the next step for the 24-year-old Mission Viejo native, who still profiles as a starter long-term, will be improving his fastball command.

“As his fastball command improves, he can be really, really good,” Maddon said. “The other stuff plays big. And if they have to honor his fastball consistently, he’s gonna be really successful for a long time.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.