Ohtani leaves start early again with finger pain

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Shohei Ohtani left the mound with finger pain for a third straight start Friday night.

With his Los Angeles Angels in a freefall and his future uncertain before the trade deadline, the two-way superstar is struggling against a host of challenges even more daunting than the blister and cracked fingernail that are preventing him from pitching at his unique peak.

Ohtani allowed four earned runs on five hits and left the mound in the sixth inning shortly before Mauricio Dubon‘s tiebreaking two-run single in the Houston Astros‘ 7-5 victory over the Angels.

Ohtani (7-5) was pulled after he walked Corey Julks to open the sixth, consulting with the Angels’ training staff before his exit with those persistent problems in his pitching hand. Ohtani’s final start before the All-Star break ended because of a fingertip blister, and he also dealt with a cracked nail last month.

“For the most part, things just didn’t go the way I wanted to,” Ohtani said through his interpreter. “It’s kind of been like that when I was on the mound. … I haven’t really thought about when my next outing is. I’m just going to come to the field, see where my finger is at, and go from there.”

Ohtani said it’s “hard to tell” how significant this injury will be.

“I’m frustrated to a certain point,” Ohtani said. “Not just me, but I feel the whole team is. I think it’s just only natural when we can’t win games that the frustration builds up.”

Ohtani, who allowed three walks and struck out seven, stayed in the game as a hitter and delivered two singles at the plate, but his Angels have lost a season-high six straight and 10 of 11.

“I just thought something wasn’t looking right there in the sixth,” Angels manager Phil Nevin said. “I saw something not right after he walked (Julks), so I wanted to check on him, and he kind of mentioned that the finger was a little sensitive. Didn’t come open, didn’t break or anything like that, but decided it was good to get him out then.”

After receiving cheers and global attention during the All-Star festivities in Seattle, Ohtani went back to work in Anaheim amid loud questions about his future in Orange County. The Halos’ pre-break skid reduced their playoff chances and increased the possibility they’ll consider trading Ohtani, who will be a free agent this winter.

“Seemed like he wasn’t really himself tonight,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said of Ohtani. “Don’t know if that blister is still bothering him, but he didn’t throw some pitches he normally throws. Anytime you get five runs off Ohtani, you did well. But he didn’t look like himself.”

After Ohtani left, reliever Jacob Webb allowed Dubon’s clutch single and Jose Abreu‘s RBI single. The Astros’ bullpen then hung on for a win out of the All-Star break by the defending World Series champions, with Ryan Pressly fanning Ohtani while striking out the side in the ninth for his 21st save.

Mickey Moniak had three hits and Taylor Ward homered for the Angels, who removed Luis Rengifo from the game in the fifth shortly after the third baseman committed an error and then didn’t hustle to prevent Kyle Tucker from scoring from second. Rengifo was pulled after a dugout conversation with Nevin.

“There’s certain things I’m not going to tolerate,” Nevin said. “I didn’t think he gave it the best effort, and he knew exactly what we were talking about.”

Rengifo acknowledged his mistake after the game — as did Mike Moustakas, whose poor handling of a late-inning bunt preceded Dubon’s tiebreaking hit.

J.P. France yielded nine hits and two earned runs while pitching into the fifth for Houston. Phil Maton (2-2) got two outs in the fifth.

The Astros tied it in the fourth after loading the bases on a hit batter and two walks from Ohtani. Alex Bregman and Tucker then led off the fifth with doubles to put Houston ahead.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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