Shohei Ohtani made an early departure from his pitching start Thursday night against Seattle after experiencing cramping in his right middle finger, but remained in the game as the Angels’ designated hitter, scoring their first run and hitting his 40th home run to help them take a two-run lead into the ninth inning.
Carlos Estévez entered hoping to pick up his 24th consecutive save, but the closer loaded the bases on two walks and a single before giving up a grand slam to Cade Marlowe, sending the Angels to a 5-3 loss at Angel Stadium.
“If [the grand slam] doesn't happen, and if I don't walk the two guys, we should have been playing right now,” Estévez said after his first blown save. “No one thinks I was gonna be perfect for the rest of my career. It would be nice to do it but it wasn’t.
“It is important and it is tough, but we got a lot more games to go. And I know all these guys in this room have my back … we're gonna get back at it tomorrow.”
The Angels (56-54) dropped to four games behind the final American League wild-card spot and 7½ games behind first-place Texas in the AL West.
As for Ohtani, it was the third time in the last week that he experienced cramping, which impacted some aspects of his performance.
Ohtani pitched four scoreless innings, giving up three hits, walking one and striking out four. After throwing just 59 pitches and drawing a walk in the bottom of the fourth, Ohtani was replaced by José Soriano to start the fifth inning. Ohtani had started to feel his finger cramp while warming up for the fourth.
"I'm cramping often lately," Ohtani said in Japanese. "Today too I might have been able to go another inning or two if I monitored it carefully. These are important games for us. It was 0-0, a type of game in which one run could make the difference. I thought continuing to pitch would cause more problems for the team."
Added manager Phil Nevin: “His right middle finger was cramping and he couldn’t get it to straighten out and he just told me he couldn’t pitch anymore. I’ve always trusted him and his body … and when he tells me that he can’t go anymore, I mean, he can’t go anymore.”
It did not prevent Ohtani from performing with his bat.
He scored on C.J. Cron’s single in the sixth inning to a chorus of “M-V-P” chants by the crowd, after being intentionally walked and then stealing his 14th base. Cron’s RBI was his first at Angel Stadium since rejoining the team and he scored on Mike Moustakas’ double for a 2-1 lead.
Ohtani’s 40th blast of the season happened in the eighth inning, giving the Angels a 3-1 lead.
Ohtani previously experienced cramping in the second game of a doubleheader in Detroit on July 27. Ohtani exited before his at-bat in the sixth inning with body cramps. He had pitched his first complete game in the first game. In Toronto on July 28, Ohtani exited before his final at-bat in the ninth because of cramping in his calves. He hit home runs in both games he made early exits from, as well.
In the previous two instances, Nevin was not concerned about Ohtani’s cramping, given the amount of work Ohtani had compiled in such a short amount of time. After Thursday’s game, as well, Nevin said he was not overly concerned since it was finger cramping and not something Ohtani was feeling in his arm. Middle fingers often cramp for pitchers, Ohtani also said.
“He was fine to hit and we’ll test him out in the next couple of days. He doesn’t usually throw right after a start,” Nevin said.
The Angels star could not say whether he needs to miss a start, but wants to play every game.
“That's not something for me to decide, of course,” Ohtani said. “I want to work to remain on schedule, of course. I think that will depend on the team's situation. That's up to the manager's judgment.
“Everyone is giving everything they have. Games that I could take off, I really don't think there are any more games like that. If I can, I would like to play each and every game.”
Times’ columnist Dylan Hernández contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.