Ohtani claims MLB HR lead, then exits start with recurrence of arm fatigue

August 24th, 2023

ANAHEIM -- After he skipped his previous scheduled start because of right arm fatigue, the Angels were hopeful would look like his normal self on the mound against the Reds in Game 1 of Wednesday’s doubleheader.

Ohtani looked sharp early and hit his Major League-leading 44th homer of the season in the first inning, but he exited the eventual 9-4 loss with one out in the second inning due to a recurrence of the arm fatigue that plagued him in his last outing on Aug. 9. Angels manager Phil Nevin said after the game that it’s too early to know how it’ll affect Ohtani going forward. Ohtani did indicate that he didn’t feel any pain during his outing, which is encouraging.

​​“He’s being evaluated, and these things take some time," said Nevin. "He told me he didn’t feel any pain. It just doesn’t feel right. It was more the same feeling he had two weeks ago returned right after the first inning. That’s all I can really tell you.”

Ohtani tossed a 1-2-3 first inning, but after throwing a 2-2 fastball to Christian Encarnacion-Strand, he looked into the Angels dugout and Nevin could tell something wasn’t right. Nevin and head athletic trainer Mike Frostad went to the mound and Ohtani exited with Frostad, replaced by lefty Tyler Anderson.

Ohtani’s velocity was noticeably down, as his fastball averaged 93.1 mph, which is nearly 4 mph slower than his season average of 96.9 mph. The velocities on his sweeper, splitter, curveball and cutter were also down.

“Anytime somebody leaves the game in the second inning, you’re worried about an injury, sure,” Nevin said. “We saw the velocity tick up in the first, but in the second it was down. And I noticed the shape of his pitches, which we have information on, just weren’t the same. I saw a look on his face after he threw a pitch and I wanted to go check on him.”

Ohtani walked Spencer Steer to lead off the second inning and left with one out and a runner on first. Ohtani, the overwhelming frontrunner to win the AL MVP Award for the second time in three seasons, entered his start with a streak of 19 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run.

Anderson got through the rest of the inning unscathed, closing the books on the abbreviated outing from Ohtani, who has a 3.14 ERA in 23 starts this season with 167 strikeouts in 132 innings. It’s unclear if he’ll need to miss any time because of his injury.

The arm fatigue didn’t seem to bother Ohtani in his first at-bat with his two-run blast, but rookie Nolan Schanuel pinch-hit for him in the third inning. Nevin explained that Ohtani was removed for evaluation by the training staff -- unlike his start against the Mariners on Aug. 3 when he left the game as a pitcher due to finger cramping but stayed in the lineup.

“It was more to allow him to get checked out right away,” Nevin said. “Last time, it was his finger, but it’s different because this was his arm.”

Ohtani looked just fine in the first, when he jumped all over a first-pitch fastball from lefty Andrew Abbott to give the Angels an early lead. Ohtani is now two homers away from his personal best of 46 during his MVP season in 2021 and three away from the club record of 47 set by Troy Glaus in 2000.

Ohtani’s homer left the bat at 115.7 mph and went a projected 442 feet, which Nevin said indicated that the arm fatigue wasn't bothering him at the plate.

​​“He hit a ball 115 mph in the first inning and beat out two infield singles the other day on ground balls to short,” Nevin said. “So if you ask if he’s tired, I’m going to say no. He would be honest with me.”

After Ohtani left the game, the Angels couldn’t hold a three-run lead, as a costly error by shortstop Andrew Velazquez with two outs in the fifth opened the door for Elly De La Cruz to hit a go-ahead three-run homer.

Steer, the Reds' third baseman, was obviously pleased his team got the victory, but said he’s hopeful Ohtani will be OK.

“Bummed, honestly,” Steer said. “He’s a great player, and we want to face the best. I hope it’s nothing too serious. I definitely was looking forward to facing him. You could kind of tell he didn’t have his sharpest stuff today. I just hope the injury isn’t serious. As a baseball fan myself, he’s a joy to watch. Hopefully he will be back soon.”