Shohei Ohtani will be placed on the Los Angeles Angels’ disabled list with a sprained elbow ligament, potentially derailing the two-way sensation’s remarkable rookie season.
Angels general manager Billy Eppler announced the injury Friday before his club opened a road trip in Minnesota. The Angels are unsure about the severity of Ohtani’s injury, but the Japanese right-hander and designated hitter won’t throw another ball before doctors re-evaluate him in three weeks.
“I’m just going to take every day as it comes and put him on this course of recovery and strengthening for the next three weeks, and then deal with what we’ve got to deal with in three weeks’ time,” Eppler said.
Ohtani left his last pitching start after four innings Wednesday due to the reoccurrence of a blister on his pitching fingers. Eppler said that’s when the Angels got their first indication Ohtani’s elbow ligament might be distressed.
“As the game adrenaline wore off, he said, ‘My elbow is getting a little stiff,'” Eppler said.
Ohtani, who will turn 24 years old next month, underwent injections of platelet-rich plasma and stem cells Thursday in Los Angeles.
The Angels said Ohtani’s ulnar collateral ligament has a Grade 2 sprain, which typically indicates some degree of damage, but not a complete tear. Ohtani’s injury doesn’t always require surgery, while Grade 3 sprains are usually repaired by Tommy John surgery.
“We’re hopeful that he can (avoid Tommy John surgery),” Eppler said, “that this is completely treatable with the biologic prescription that the doctors recommend.”
Yahoo Sports reported last December that Ohtani had a Grade 1 sprain of his UCL, but Eppler said at the time that there were “no signs of acute trauma” in the ligament. Ohtani also had a PRP injection last October.
Ohtani is 4-1 with a 3.10 ERA in his debut North American season, getting 61 strikeouts with a dazzling mix of 100-mph fastballs and precipitous breaking pitches — including a vicious splitter, a pitch which typically puts significant stress on a pitcher’s ligaments. The Angels’ opponents are batting just .202 in his nine starts.
Ohtani also is batting .289 with six homers and 20 RBIs as baseball’s most successful two-way player in decades. The designated hitter had cooled off slightly after an impressive start at the plate, batting .257 with two homers since April.
Eppler acknowledged that if Ohtani was only a hitter, he “probably” would be able to keep playing with such an injury.
“But that’s not his circumstance, and that’s not how we want to utilize the player,” Eppler said. “It was determined that any unique swing or variability (in Ohtani’s elbow) could impose some small percentage increase in risk, so that’s why we’re going to give it the three-week time period right now to assess, and then make a determination at that time.”
The Angels have attempted to keep Ohtani fresh by giving him at least a week of mound rest between his pitching starts, adhering to a disciplined plan drawn up by Eppler. While Ohtani was eager for more playing time, the Angels didn’t want to rush Ohtani into a frantic pace in his first big-league season.
Any long-term injury for Ohtani could be crushing to the Angels (35-28), who are trying to keep pace in the high-powered AL West race with Seattle and Houston. They have won four straight and five of six heading into the opener of their nine-game road trip against the Twins.
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