Angels phenom Shohei Ohtani likely to undergo Tommy John surgery

Angels phenom Shohei Ohtani will likely require Tommy John surgery after an MRI revealed new damage to his right elbow’s UCL, the team announced Wednesday.

The surgery would likely keep Ohtani off the mound for at least a year, though his value as a hitter could create an unusual rehab timeline for the 24-year-old. This news comes three days after Ohtani’s return to the mound, a 2.1-inning start in which the right-hander saw a worrying dip in velocity.

Did the Angels make a mistake with Ohtani?

It looked like Ohtani had avoided the surgery earlier in the year when he suffered a grade 2 UCL sprain in June. The Angels opted to rest Ohtani’s arm and use him only as a hitter for three months, then were optimistic enough about his recover that they decided to bring him back to the mound as a starter on Sunday.

That plan obviously carried an enormous amount of risk for the team and player, as a single setback was all that separated one of baseball’s most dynamic talents from one of its most dreaded surgeries. Ohtani had already entered the season with a minor UCL sprain that had been treated with a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection.

Compounding the risky decision for the Angels was that, at the time of Ohtani’s start on Sunday, the team was more than 15 games out of the AL West division race and held a very low chance to make the playoffs. The decision to bring Ohtani back might not have been centered around the team trying to remain competitive, but it was still questionable to put an arm with such ailments back on the mound with little to gain beyond confidence for next season.

Shohei Ohtani likely won’t be seeing the mound for the Angels anytime soon. (AP Photo)
Shohei Ohtani likely won’t be seeing the mound for the Angels anytime soon. (AP Photo)

Shohei Ohtani did not look 100 percent during his return

If the decision to bring a pitcher back to the mound despite a UCL injury earlier in the year didn’t set off multiple red flags, Ohtani’s performance on the mound was more than enough to show he might not have been 100 percent in his first start back.

Ohtani began his start Sunday sitting at 97 mph with his fastball and reaching as high as 99, but things went off the rails in the third inning. Ohtani opened the frame with an 88.9 mph fastball, then allowed a homer on a 77 mph slider in the next at-bat. His velocity was clearly nosediving.

The Angels chalked up the dip in velocity to back stiffness and a sore right middle finger after trying to field a comebacker, but the team clearly found something else might have been to blame during his subsequent MRI.

Where does this leave Shohei Ohtani?

Ohtani had been delivering plenty of value in the batter’s box despite his UCL sprain, but his newest diagnosis might mean he needs to completely step away from the field for the rest of the season.’s Jon Morosi reported that Angels GM Billy Eppler said Ohtani is still cleared to hit, but that could change depending on what Ohtani wishes to do.

Since Aug. 1, Ohtani has been swinging one of the hottest bats in MLB, hitting .323/.413/.692 with seven homers in 75 plate appearances. He’s hitting .276/.355/.547 for the entire season, a performance that has established his value even as a full-time designated hitter.

Receiving the bad news didn’t even slow Ohtani down in the batter’s box, as he ended up homering the same day.

Whatever happens to Ohtani the hitter, Ohtani the pitcher will likely miss the entire 2019 season due to Tommy John surgery’s extensive recovery and rehab times. Thanks to Ohtani’s uniqueness as a two-way player, there’s a chance he returns only as a hitter before his arm is fully healed from Tommy John, but it would be understandable if the Angels decide to take zero risks with a player so important to its future.

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