Ohtani off to flying start with Angels, yet still improvingLos Angeles Angels starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani, of Japan, tips his cap to the crowd after being taken out of a baseball game in the eighth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays, Sunday, May 20, 2018, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) -- Shohei Ohtani left the mound to a standing ovation after his longest, deepest start for the Los Angeles Angels. He doffed his cap with a weary right arm, acknowledging the roars for the latest milestone in his remarkable rookie season.
The Angels already knew Ohtani had a prodigious talent. He also showed a wealth of tenacity while beating the Tampa Bay Rays.
Ohtani struck out nine while throwing 7 2/3 innings of excellent six-hit ball in his seventh career start, and the Angels snapped their five-game skid with a 5-2 victory on Sunday.
Martin Maldonado homered and drove in two runs, and Zack Cozart drove in two more runs on sacrifice flies as the Angels wrapped up a disappointing 11-game homestand with only four victories - including both games started by Ohtani (4-1). The Angels are 6-1 when Ohtani starts.
Los Angeles' rookie two-way sensation had another strong outing in the longest start of his stateside career, limiting Tampa Bay to three baserunners in his first six innings. Ohtani retired 12 straight Rays after yielding rookie Johnny Field's homer leading off the third.
''I had a little trouble in the seventh inning, and I was happy I was able to get out of it,'' Ohtani said through a translator. ''I felt good, and I was glad we were able to get the win.''
Indeed, Ohtani demonstrated his resilience late. He kept Tampa Bay scoreless in the seventh despite yielding two singles, and he gave up a run while battling for two more outs in the eighth.
''That's a great sign, to throw 110 pitches and maintain your stuff,'' Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. ''Shohei showed a lot of what he's about. That's what makes him so special.''
While Ohtani went long, reliever Sergio Romo made a short start for Tampa Bay for the second consecutive day. He faced the Angels' first six batters and got four outs while becoming the first pitcher in 38 years to last at least one inning in back-to-back starts.
Romo gave way to Matt Andriese (1-2), who gave up two unearned runs in the fourth after making an error on Andrelton Simmons' grounder back to the mound.
Albert Pujols got the day off for the Angels, whose weeklong struggles continued at the plate. Los Angeles still managed to hold a 3-1 lead after five innings despite getting just one hit - which didn't factor into any of the runs.
After Justin Anderson escaped the eighth-inning jam, Blake Parker pitched the ninth for his second save in two opportunities.
Matt Duffy had three hits for the Rays, whose six-game winning streak ended in the finale of an 11-game road trip. Tampa Bay hadn't even trailed since last Sunday in Baltimore, where the Rays lost three of four.
''Can't say enough about the way our guys bounced back from Baltimore to win six of the last seven,'' Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said. ''The guys have responded.''
Field, the Rays' No. 9 hitter, had two hits off Ohtani, leading off the third inning with his fourth career homer on a first-pitch fastball.
Romo made the first two starts of his 11-year big league career during the weekend, and he didn't allow a run in either appearance. He struck out the side in the first inning Saturday before striking out three more Sunday, but also walking two batters.
''For me, my preparation didn't really change too much,'' Romo said. ''The only difference was the timing. Typically, you get the call, and two minutes later, you're in the game. Warming up on the field is different.''
Cash employed the unusual strategy to allow the two young pitchers who followed Romo to face the heart of the Angels' order one fewer time. Cash said the plan will be modified in the coming weeks, but the Rays could continue to use Romo or another reliever in that role - but probably not in back-to-back games again.
Romo became the first pitcher to start back-to-back games since Zack Greinke did it for Milwaukee in July 2012 after getting ejected from his first start after four pitches. Romo is the first pitcher to pitch at least one inning in back-to-back starts since Steve McCatty did it for Oakland in 1980.
''The one thing that was odd was going onto an unscathed mound,'' Romo said. ''I was like, 'Whoa, what is this?' I kind of had to kick it out a little so I could get that bump in the middle that I'm used to.''
Rays: RHP Nathan Eovaldi will make his fourth rehab start Wednesday with Triple-A Durham. He's returning from a right elbow problem.
Angels: Starter Matt Shoemaker played catch for the first time in two weeks, but he's still struggling with a strained right forearm. He has made only one start in the last 11 months.
Rays: After a day off, Tampa Bay returns home to face the Red Sox with Jake Faria (3-2, 5.20 ERA) on the mound Tuesday. Although he struggled last week at Kansas City, he hasn't allowed more than one run in a home start this season.
Angels: After a travel day, Garrett Richards (4-3, 3.47 ERA) takes the mound Tuesday in Toronto for the first time since Aug. 23, 2015. He is coming off a hard-luck loss despite pitching seven strong innings against Justin Verlander and the Astros.
More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tags/MLBbaseball