ANAHEIM, Calif. — The sliders sailed high, the splitters were spiked, and the fastballs remained flat.
The impressive arsenal of pitches that Shohei Ohtani displayed through his first two starts for the Los Angeles Angels were nowhere to be found against the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday night, and he was removed after two innings with a blister on his right middle finger.
The two-way Japanese rookie sensation left after just 66 pitches. He gave up three runs on four hits — including one of Mookie Betts’ three home runs — in a 10-1 loss at a sold-out Angel Stadium.
“[The blister] had an effect on the overall command of all his pitches,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.
“He didn’t say anything in warm-ups about it. …. He got through two innings, but we don’t want it to get any worse. Just make sure you bounce back for his next start, which we anticipate right now.”
The date of Ohtani’s next scheduled start has yet to be determined. The blister isn’t expected to impact his ability to hit, which leaves open the possibility that he will serve as the designated hitter in Thursday’s series finale.
“We’ll be flexible,” Scioscia said when asked specifically if Ohtani would start next Tuesday. “Obviously, this is a new wrinkle right now, with the blister coming up, but we’ll get into that later in the week. He’s going to hit a couple times, obviously, before he pitches again. We’ll see where everything sets up.”
Ohtani, 23, dealt with blisters on the same finger in Japan and said through his interpreter that they typically don’t impact his availability.
“I’ve fought through it,” said Ohtani, who was still able to hit 100 mph on the radar gun with a handful of second-inning pitches. “I think it’s going to be something similar this time too.”
Ohtani, who surrendered only three runs in his first 13 innings, began the game by giving up a leadoff home run to Betts. He also gave up two walks while throwing only 52 percent of his pitches for strikes and generating just three swing-and-misses.
“He didn’t have his off-speed pitches, and his fastball wasn’t as good as it has been the last two games,” Angels catcher Martin Maldonado said. “They took advantage of it.”
Ohtani took the mound on eight days’ rest because his Sunday start against the Kansas City Royals was postponed due to frigid weather.
The blister actually developed during Ohtani’s previous start, when he carried a perfect game into the seventh inning against the Oakland Athletics.
“The medical people took a look at it, and they felt like it would be fine for today,” Ohtani said through his interpreter. “I also felt the same way. I tried to pitch, but with the high intensity of the game, it didn’t hold up too well.”
Ohtani spiked five pitches in the first inning, one of which bounced about 5 feet in front of home plate and resulted in a wild pitch. He began the second inning with two high sliders that backed up Eduardo Nunez, then allowed each of the next four batters to reach base, with Brock Holt providing an RBI single and Andrew Benintendi adding a sacrifice fly.
“My splitter, I didn’t have good command of that. My fastball, I didn’t feel off my fingertips. Same with my slider,” Ohtani said.
Ohtani threw just 34 percent of his off-speed pitches for strikes, down from 68 percent in his first two starts, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Sixty-two percent of his off-speed pitches were noncompetitive pitches, which means they were more than 18 inches from the center of the strike zone. That was a sharp increase from the 26 percent in his first two starts.
It wasn’t until Ohtani exited that Maldonado found out the pitcher had been dealing with a blister.
“I didn’t know [he didn’t have his best stuff] right away because sometimes he doesn’t have it one inning, and the next inning, he’ll go out there, and he’ll have it,” Maldonado said. “Maybe he bounces one split-finger [fastball], and the next pitch he throws it filthy. It’s hard to tell when he has it or he doesn’t have it.”
The Ohtani craze continued Tuesday, with an announced crowd of 44,822 — the team’s first sell-out on a Tuesday in four years. The Angels’ public relations department also issued approximately 160 additional credentials.
Ohtani dominated in his first two starts, at one point retiring 27 consecutive hitters in a stretch that covered both outings against the A’s. Offensively, he carried a .367/.424/.767 slash line, with three home runs in 33 plate appearances.
Scioscia was asked pregame to compare what Ohtani was doing to the hype that surrounded Fernando Valenzuela, his former Los Angeles Dodgers teammate, in the 1980s. The manager’s assessment: “He has the chance to be just as dynamic in his first season.”