Dave Roberts’ pregame media briefing was about to break up Wednesday when a Japanese reporter chimed in with a question that was as direct as the chalk line between home plate and first base in Angel Stadium.
“Do you want Shohei Ohtani?” the Dodgers manager was asked.
“I don’t think there’s a manager that wouldn’t love Shohei, but right now, he’s an Angel, so I want to get hits off him, and I want to get him out four times tonight,” Roberts said before the Freeway Series game. “And I can’t afford tampering charges.”
The Dodgers are expected to make a huge play for Ohtani in free agency, so much so that in a poll of 96 major leaguers conducted by the Athletic this week, 57.2% said they thought Ohtani would be playing for the Dodgers next season. The Angels ranked second at 11.4%.
Ohtani provided yet another reason why he will be so coveted next winter in his first career start against the Dodgers, the right-hander allowing one run and five hits, striking out 12 and walking two in a stout seven-inning, 101-pitch effort.
But the Dodgers had Ohtani outnumbered, countering with a game in which seven relievers from what is statistically one of baseball’s worst bullpens combined to allow two hits in a 2-0 victory before a sold-out crowd of 44,760
Freddie Freeman hit a solo home run off Ohtani in the fourth inning, and Miguel Vargas hit a solo shot off reliever Aaron Loup in the ninth to help the Dodgers win consecutive games for the first time since May 29 and 30 against the Washington Nationals at Dodger Stadium.
The Dodgers, who also shut out the Angels 2-0 on Tuesday night, have won eight straight games against their Southern California rivals dating to the 2021 season.
“A bullpen game is like a relay race, it’s pass that baton to the next guy,” Roberts said. “There’s eight guys down there. They’re really tight. And when one guy is scuffling, you can sense they’re all feeling it.
“Conversely, when one guy is doing well, throws a good inning, the next guy wants to do the same thing. So tonight was picture-perfect.”
A bullpen game seemed like an odd choice for the Dodgers considering the scheduled starter, Michael Grove, was called up from triple-A Oklahoma City before the game and their relievers entered Wednesday with a 5.01 earned-run average, the second-worst mark in baseball.
But Grove didn’t start and instead, right-hander Brusdar Graterol set the tone with two hitless innings, and the parade of relievers who followed — Victor González (11/3 innings), Yency Almonte (11/3 innings), Alex Vesia (one inning), Ryan Brasier (11/3 innings), Caleb Ferguson (one inning) and Evan Phillips (one inning) — kept the Angels off the board.
Combined with the two innings they threw in relief of Clayton Kershaw on Tuesday, Dodgers relievers combined for 11 scoreless innings in the series, a performance that might not have been possible without some heart-to-heart talks among the relievers over the weekend.
“Guys spoke up and said, ‘Hey, we’re not performing the way we’ve performed in the past, so we need to get back to doing what we know we can do,’” Almonte said. “Brusdar set it up. He spoke in Spanish, and I translated for him. [Bullpen coach Josh Bard] spoke up, Phillips, Ferguson and myself stepped up to say how we felt.”
Ferguson said “nothing crazy” was said.
“It was just opening the floor and let’s talk about how everybody’s feeling,” the left-hander said. “When you’re trying to hold all that in, over the course of 162 games, things can go haywire sometimes.
“So getting everybody back together and just reminding everybody as a group that we’re really good, I think it’s been good.”
In past years, veteran relievers such as David Price and Kenley Jansen would have taken the lead in such meetings, but a young and inexperienced relief corps had to feel its way through this one.
“Not having that voice down in the ’pen, kind of putting the pressure on our group, has really forced a lot of open communication,” said Phillips, who threw a scoreless ninth for his ninth save. “I think each of us has kind of found our voice to be able to communicate with each other and try to help each other and feed off each other, and you saw the results tonight.”
González got a huge assist from David Peralta, who raced in to catch Mickey Moniak’s fly ball to shallow left and fired a perfect one-hop throw to catcher Will Smith, who swiped a tag on Luis Rengifo to complete an inning-ending double play in the third, the second straight game the Dodgers cut down a potential run at the plate.
Dodgers third baseman Michael Busch lost Hunter Renfroe’s high foul popup in the twilight with two on and two outs in the fifth, the ball dropping for an error, but Vesia bailed him out by getting Renfroe to fly out to center, ending the inning.
And shortstop Mookie Betts started a smooth double play behind Ferguson to end the eighth.
“That was pretty incredible,” Freeman said. “Back-to-back shutouts in big-league games is pretty hard to do.”
Miller on the shelf
Reliever Shelby Miller, who is 1-0 with a 2.40 ERA in 25 games, was placed on the 15-day injured list because of neck pain, an issue that Roberts said will sideline the veteran right-hander for three to four weeks.
“It’s something I think he’s dealt with [in the past], and I don’t think anyone appreciated the extent of it,” Roberts said. “I’m just amazed at how he still could perform with that.”