ANAHEIM — With the Angels desperate for some momentum after losing nine of 10 to end the first half of the season, they turned to their ace and two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani in the first game of the All-Star break against the Astros. Friday night.
But the same issues that plagued them during their recent rough stretch came to the fore again, with Ohtani battling his blister/toenail issue and the Angels making several costly misplays and mental mistakes in a 7-5 loss at Angel Stadium. Ohtani went five-plus innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on five hits and three walks with seven strikeouts, falling to 7-5 with a 3.50 ERA in 18 outings. It marked his third straight trip with head athletic trainer Mike Frostad leaving early due to an issue with his right middle finger.
“For the most part, things didn’t go the way I wanted them to,” Ohtani said through translator Ippei Mizuara. “It’s been like that on the mound the last two outings.”
Ohtani, a front-runner for the AL MVP award, walked leadoff hitter Corey Jules on his 94th pitch in the sixth. The Angels thought his finger wouldn’t be a problem after some rest during the All-Star break, but it continued to bother him Friday. His pace dropped slightly and he conceded five runs for his second straight dismissal.
Angels manager Phil Nevin said, “I thought something didn’t feel right in the sixth.” After the walk, he noted that the finger was a little sensitive. The nail didn’t break or anything, but I decided it was a good time to get him out.
Ohtani, who is set to become a free agent after the season, could see his trade value hurt by his finger injury if that continues to be an issue. According to John Paul Morosi of MLB.com, the Angels are not expected to trade him, though they are expected to at least ask for offers.
Ohtani said his teammates felt disappointed after falling two games below .500 at 45-47. But he noted that his outing didn’t help, especially in the fourth game, when he lost his command and allowed two runs after hitting a batter and then two more to load the bases with nobody out.
“I get frustrated at a certain point,” Ohtani said. “Not just me. But I feel like the whole team is. I feel it’s only natural that frustrations build up when we don’t win games.
It unraveled further in the fifth when Ohtani gave up back-to-back doubles to Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker before Luis Rengifo made a costly mistake. Rengifo booted a grounder from Jose Abreu and then fumbled after the ball, allowing Tucker to score and Abreu to reach second. He was approached by Nevin after the inning and benched in favor of Eduardo Escobar.
“There are some things I’m not going to put up with,” Nevin said. “I don’t think he gave it his best effort. He knows what I’m talking about.”
Rengifo said he understood why Nevin pulled him out of the game and vowed to make a fuss the next time something similar happened.
“I think I can make a better effort at that,” Rengifo said through a translator. “I can learn from that.”
The Angels started the next inning after RBI singles by Mickey Moniak and Escobar. But Mike Mastakas grounded into a double play to end the inning.
Ohtani returned in the sixth, but after Julks walked, he was replaced by Jacob Webb. After Webb passed Jeremy Pena, Martin Maldonado threw a ball to Moustakas at first, who had time to throw to third base or second base to initiate a double play. Instead, he got an easy out at first and Mauricio Dubon followed with a two-run single.
“I fielded it and I didn’t make the right play,” Moustakas said. “I didn’t bowl the third or second ball. I cost us the game.
They made another mistake in the top of the sixth, leaving runners on first and second with nobody out, but Michael Stefanik launched a grand slam and Hunter Renfrow doubled from second base. That ended a potential rally for the Angels.
“We tried to get two back in there,” Nevin said. “He got it out there. The fundamentals, we’ve got to stay clean and we didn’t get off anything tonight.