Shohei Ohtani hits 40th HR after start cut short by finger cramps

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Shohei Ohtani couldn’t extend his right middle finger enough to continue pitching Thursday night, but he still recorded the 600th strikeout of his career, still belted his major-league-leading 40th home run this season and still did everything possible to try to help his Los Angeles Angels win a critical game against their division rivals.

The Angels lost 5-3 on a ninth-inning grand slam by Seattle Mariners outfielder Cade Marlowe, and now there are questions surrounding the same finger that had been an issue for Ohtani in recent weeks.

“It’s a finger, so I’m not overly concerned,” Angels manager Phil Nevin said. “Obviously he was fine to hit.”

Ohtani threw four scoreless innings on 59 pitches, during which he became the eighth player in major league history to record 600 strikeouts within his first 84 career pitching appearances. When he returned to the dugout in the middle of the fourth inning, though, he informed Nevin that his right middle finger — the same finger on which he previously had a cracked nail and a blister that hindered him in late June and early July — had cramped to the point he couldn’t extend it.

It forced Nevin to go to his bullpen at least two innings earlier than he expected.

“I felt like maybe I could’ve gone another inning or two, but I’m trying to feel out how my hand feels,” Ohtani said through his interpreter. “It was a 0-0 game, we couldn’t give up any runs, and I thought it was better for the team for me to stop pitching.”

But Ohtani continued to hit. He was intentionally walked in the sixth, then stole second base and came around to score the tying run. In the eighth, he lined a 106.7 mph home run over the right-field fence to give the Angels a 3-1 lead — a lead that vanished when Carlos Estevez allowed four runs in the top of the ninth, blowing his first save in 24 chances.

Ohtani ultimately became the first player in the live-ball era (since 1920) to reach base safely four times, hit a home run, steal a base and not allow a run on the mound in the same game, according to research by Elias Sports Bureau. But all that matters for an Angels team that has gone all-in trying to reach the playoffs this season is Ohtani’s availability as a pitcher.

“As of now, I’m going to be on my normal schedule, preparing to make my next start,” Ohtani said. “Depending on where the team is and what Phil wants to do, we’ll go from there.”

The final word might not come until Tuesday, given that Ohtani doesn’t typically throw his between-starts bullpen sessions until the day before he’s scheduled to pitch again. Ohtani was also removed because of leg cramps in the second game of a doubleheader in Detroit last Thursday, then in the ninth inning in Toronto the following night, the latter while representing the go-ahead run.

Asked if he’d like to take additional time off, Ohtani said: “It’s something that I can’t really decide on my own. It’s something that we have to talk about as a team. But as I said, every game is going to matter from here on out. Personally, I feel like I don’t want to take any days off. I’m not the only one that’s fatigued.”

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