Ohtani K’s 10, homers twice despite cracked nail

ANAHEIM, Calif. — The diagnosis blared through the press box speakers at 8:53 p.m. PT on Tuesday: Shohei Ohtani, the Los Angeles Angels announced, had exited the game as a pitcher due to a cracked nail on what was later revealed to be his right middle finger. Mere seconds later, Ohtani, now acting as a hitter, extended on a low-and-away splitter and unleashed a towering opposite-field home run, his second of the night, punctuating another breathtaking performance that left everyone around him in awe.

Ohtani reached all four times he came to bat and contributed 6⅓ innings of one-run ball, leading the Angels to a 4-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox. But it was the circumstances of his second home run that embodied his unprecedented value, unable to contribute further on the mound yet still acting as a force in the batter’s box.

“It’s everything as advertised and even more,” new Angels infielder Mike Moustakas said after what was only his third day as Ohtani’s teammate. “I’m fortunate enough to see his preparation and see what he does in the cage and in here, and it translates every single day out there on the field.”

Ohtani, surging through the month of June and acting once again as the favorite for the American League MVP award, walked and singled in between his two home runs as a hitter and allowed only four hits and two walks as a pitcher, striking out 10 while shutting the White Sox out through the first six innings.

He became the sixth player with 10 strikeouts and two home runs in a game since the mound moved to its current distance in 1893, joining Zack Greinke (2019), Madison Bumgarner (2017), Rick Wise (1971), Pedro Ramos (1963) and Milt Pappas (1961). And Ohtani is the first player since 1900 with 10 strikeouts and three hits in multiple games in a single season.

Ohtani now has five three-hit performances in games when he is the starting pitcher, joining Warren Spahn (1958) and George Uhle (1923) as the only players to attain that many in a single season.

And yet none of that does his exploits justice.

The Angels have reached the midway point of their season, and Ohtani leads the majors in OPS (1.039), home runs (28) and RBIs (64), while ranking 15th among 65 qualified pitchers in ERA (3.02), accumulating the third-most strikeouts (127) and sporting the lowest batting average against (.180). His 5.7 FanGraphs wins above replacement paces the sport by a wide margin.

After his second home run on Tuesday, many of the 33,637 in attendance began to shower Ohtani with “MVP” chants, a common occurrence in recent years.

“It’s always a good feeling to hear that,” Ohtani said through his interpreter. “It gives me a lot of motivation to do better.”

Ohtani breezed through the top of the first, striking out two batters in the process, then unleashed a 418-foot, 110.8 mph home run in the bottom half to give his team its first run.

But Ohtani began the game with a small crack in his right middle fingernail that he said got worse as the night wore on. In the top of the seventh, with two on and one out and the Angels clinging to 2-0 lead, Ohtani engaged in a relatively long conversation with pitching coach Matt Wise. The crack in his nail had made it more difficult for him to command his off-speed pitches, and the power-hitting Jake Burger was due up. Ohtani had already thrown 102 pitches and saw that Jacob Webb was warming up and felt it would be best to come out. Angels manager Phil Nevin removed him moments later.

“That actually happened a couple innings earlier, and he was fine,” Nevin said. “It’s just there was a little more separation there, so he just felt like somebody else was a better choice at that time.”

Ohtani doesn’t believe he’ll be impacted for his next start, which lines up for Monday at the San Diego Padres.

“I feel like I came out of the game before it got too bad,” Ohtani said, “so the plan is [to] go on schedule.”

The home run Ohtani hit moments after exiting as a pitcher, traveling 404 feet to left-center field, was his 13th in June, tying five others — including himself in 2021 — for the most in franchise history in any month. His 28 home runs for the year also tied his 2021 total for an Angels record before the start of July, which is still four days away.

On the mound, Ohtani recorded his fifth game this season with 10 or more strikeouts and one or fewer runs allowed, tying Nolan Ryan (1977 and 1979) for the most before July in franchise history.

“It’s special,” Moustakas, a veteran of 13 years, said. “I’m fortunate enough to get to watch it in the short time since I’ve been here, and I can’t wait to see what he does next, man. It’s always fun. Everybody in the stands is on the edge of their seat when he comes up or when he’s pitching, and I feel like it’s the same way in the clubhouse and in the dugout.

“You know something’s going to happen any time he steps in the box or on the mound. It’s pretty fun to be part of it.”

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