Ohtani belts 40th HR after cramps cut start short

August 4th, 2023

ANAHEIM -- Two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani left his start against the Mariners after four innings due to cramping in his right middle finger on Thursday, but it didn’t stop him from hitting his MLB-leading 40th homer in the eighth inning.

It wasn’t enough because closer Carlos Estévez couldn’t hold a two-run lead in the ninth, giving up a grand slam to Cade Marlowe in a tough 5-3 loss in the series opener at Angel Stadium.  It was the first blown save of the year for Estévez, and it dropped the Angels (56-54) to four games behind Toronto in the AL Wild Card chase.

“He told me his right middle finger was cramping and he couldn’t straighten it out, so he couldn’t pitch anymore,” Angels manager Phil Nevin said. “I’ve always trusted him and his body. It’s a finger, so I’m not overly concerned, but we’ll get it checked. He was obviously fine to hit.”

Ohtani was hopeful his finger issue was behind him, as he threw a one-hit shutout against the Tigers in his previous start on July 27. But he also left the second game of a doubleheader that day with body cramps, and left Friday’s game in Toronto early with lower leg cramping. He said he believes it’s all connected, but isn’t worried going forward.

“It’s not just my finger, I’ve been getting cramps all over the place,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “I felt like maybe I could have gone another inning or two. But I was trying to feel out my hand and it was a 0-0 game and we couldn’t give up any runs, so I just thought it was better for the team for me to stop pitching at that point.”

But it was in the eighth inning that Ohtani proved that the cramps weren’t affecting him at the plate, as he crushed a 2-2 fastball from reliever Isaiah Campbell over the right-field fence to give the Angels an insurance run. He became the first player in the Majors to reach the 40-homer mark this season and is on pace for 59 blasts this year.

The solo shot was spoiled in the ninth, however, as Estévez saw his streak of 23 consecutive save chances converted come to an end, giving up Marlowe’s second career homer.

“It’s pretty tough,” Estèvez said. “I walked two guys to start the inning. And that’s never ideal. I think that was the biggest mistake of the inning. Nobody thought I’d be perfect my whole career. It’s tough but we have a lot of games to go.”

Ohtani said he’ll consult with Nevin and the training staff if he’ll need to skip a start, but he was optimistic that wouldn’t be necessary. But he said he’ll get a better feel for his finger in a few days when he attempts to throw again.

“It's not up to me, that's more up to Nev and the team,” Ohtani said. “As of now, I’m going to prepare to make my next start.”

Ohtani, the runaway favorite to win the AL MVP Award for the second time in three seasons, showed no signs of any issue with his finger during his start and scattered three hits and a walk while striking out four. His velocity was up over his season average, as his fastball averaged 98.7 mph and touched 100.2 mph. His season average for his four-seamer is 96.9 mph.

Even after he finished pitching, Ohtani continued to make an impact at the plate, reaching base safely four times. He helped spark a two-run rally as a hitter in the sixth, getting intentionally walked with two outs after a 3-0 count against right-hander Bryan Woo. Ohtani promptly stole his 14th base of the year and then scored the game-tying run on an RBI single from C.J. Cron. Mike Moustakas followed with a double to give the Angels the lead.