HATS OFF FOR THE EFFORT: Shohei Ohtani loses his helmet while slapping an infield single Sunday against the Texas Rangers. (JUN NAGATA/Rafu Shimpo)

Rafu Staff and Wire Service Reports

Lars Nootbaar continued his productive streak at the plate last weekend, providing a bright spot for the St. Louis Cardinals, who are languishing in the AL Central cellar.

On Sunday, Nootbaar drove in a pair of runs in the Cardinals’ 12-6 home win over Detroit, as the team snapped an eight-game losing streak.

The native of El Segundo entered play Sunday on a tear, batting .643 over his previous three games.

Batting in the leadoff spot on Saturday, Nootbaar went 3-for-4 with a walk, a stolen base and a run scored in a 6-5 extra-inning loss to the Tigers.

Over 21 games this season, he is batting .297 with two home runs and nine RBI.

In Pittsburgh, Yusei Kikuchi declared he was in the best form of his MLB career after throwing 6-1/3 shutout innings for the Toronto Blue Jays in a 10-1 win over the Pirates that completed a three-game sweep.

Continuing his impressive start to the season, the Japanese left-hander improved to 5-0 with a 3.35 ERA after fanning three while limiting the Pirates lineup to four hits and a pair of walks at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park.

“Being able to attack the strike zone with my fastball was huge,” Kikuchi said. “With the experience I’ve built up, things are taking shape, little by little.”

The 31-year-old’s consistent quality starts this year mark a turnaround from his difficult 2022 season, when he fell out of the Toronto rotation and eventually went 6-7 with a 5.19 ERA.

“I’m in my best form since coming to the majors,” said the former Seibu Lions ace, who moved stateside in 2019.

In other MLB action, Boston Red Sox outfielder Masataka Yoshida extended the longest active hitting streak in the majors to 16 games, going 2-for-4 in his team’s 6-1 loss at the Philadelphia Phillies.

Shohei Ohtani went 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run as designated hitter for the Los Angeles Angels, who lost 16-8 at home to the Texas Rangers.

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