HOUSTON (AP) — George Springer knew something was different about Shohei Ohtani in his second at-bat against the Angels' pitcher him in the third inning on Sunday night.
"The velocity drop was probably the obvious," Springer said. "He was throwing 98-99 and then came out throwing 88-92. When it's that obvious I hope he's OK."
Springer hit a two-run homer and finished a triple shy of the cycle to lead the Houston Astros to a 4-2 win over Los Angeles in Ohtani's return to the mound.
Ohtani (4-2) lasted just 2 1/3 innings in his first time pitching since June 6 because of an elbow strain. Both of the hits he allowed were to Springer — a leadoff single and his two-run shot in the third that made it 2-0.
Springer was right about something being wrong with Ohtani. After the game Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Ohtani was dealing with tightness in his back and a sore right ring finger after he deflected a ball off of it in the second inning. But Scioscia doesn't think either problem should cause him to miss more time.
"First two innings were electric. That's what you expect," Scioscia said. "Third inning obviously his stuff wasn't as crisp ... there was definitely a drop of velocity but not connected at all to the thing that he had with his elbow before. Hopefully he has good workouts in between and be ready to go next week."
Alex Bregman finished with two hits and his solo homer in the seventh inning pushed the lead to 4-2.
Ohtani joined Babe Ruth as the only players in major league history to start 10 games as a pitcher and hit 10 homers in a single season. The rookie, who has 15 homers, missed almost a month after he was injured before returning as the team's designated hitter on July 3.
He threw 49 pitches, striking out two and walking two.
"I gave up that two-run shot so I failed to do my job as a starting pitcher," he said in Japanese through an interpreter. "So, that's a disappointment right there. Body-wise, I really can't say much at this point. I will wait until (Monday) to see how my body reacts. As of now my body feels fine."
Houston starter Gerrit Cole (13-5) allowed six hits and two runs in 5 2/3 innings for his third straight win after losing three in a row. He struck out nine to move past teammate Justin Verlander (240) and into first place in the American League with 243 strikeouts. Roberto Osuna pitched a perfect ninth for his 12th save.
After Springer's single in the first, Ohtani walked Carlos Correa with two outs, but he struck out Tyler White to end the threat. He pitched a 1-2-3 second inning before Tony Kemp drew a walk to start the third. Springer then sent a 77 mph slider into the Crawford Boxes in left field with two strikes for his first homer since Aug. 5.
"He's been teetering on that a little bit over the last couple weeks and every hitter needs to feel a little bit of success no matter the work they're putting in," manager A.J. Hinch said of Springer. "So tonight he put it all together and really did a nice job at the top of the lineup."
Jose Altuve grounded out after that and Ohtani was replaced by Jim Johnson.
Jose Fernandez got things going for the Angels in the fourth with a single before Cole plunked Taylor Ward. Fernandez advanced to third on a passed ball by catcher Martin Maldonado. White grabbed a grounder hit by Francisco Arcia and threw home in time to beat Fernandez for the first out of the inning.
The Angels cut the lead to 2-1 when Jefry Marte grounded into a force out that scored Ward and left Arcia out at second.
Springer doubled on a ball that was just inches away from being a home run to start Houston's fifth. The Astros pushed the lead to 3-1 later in the inning when Correa drew a bases-loaded walk.
Ward singled with no outs in the sixth before a one-out single by Marte. Cole struck out Eric Young Jr. and was replaced by Tony Sipp, who walked Kole Calhoun to load the bases. Joe Smith took over and hit David Fletcher with a pitch to send a run home and cut the lead to 3-2 before Correa made a nice catch on a ball hit by Mike Trout to end the inning.
Angels: LF Justin Upton was out of the lineup with a concussion after he was injured Saturday night. The injury came when he slid to avoid a collision with Andrelton Simmons when the two were tracking a pop up in the fifth inning. He is listed as day to day.
K's ALL DAY
Cole and Verlander are the first teammates to have 240 or more strikeouts each since Kerry Wood (266) and Mark Prior (245) did it for the Chicago Cubs in 2003. The last teammates in the AL to pile up that many K's were Nolan Ryan (327) and Frank Tanana (261) for the Angels in 1976.
Angels: Matt Shoemaker (1-0, 4.76 ERA) will come off the disabled list to make his first start since March 31 when Los Angeles opens a three-game series at Texas on Monday. Shoemaker, who had surgery on his right forearm in May, is 4-2 with a 5.68 ERA in six career starts against the Rangers.
Astros: Dallas Keuchel (10-10, 3.58) is scheduled to start for Houston in the first of three games against the Twins on Monday. Keuchel allowed eight hits and three runs in six innings of a 5-4 win over Oakland in his last start but did not factor in the decision.