Shohei Ohtani and his agent say his UCL procedure wasn't Tommy John surgery

LOS ANGELES — Throughout Shohei Ohtani's free agency, a question that had gone completely unanswered was the exact nature of the elbow surgery the two-way phenom underwent at the end of the season.

It was publicly known that Ohtani had torn the UCL in his pitching elbow and undergone surgery to fix it, which would keep him from pitching in the 2024 MLB season. Usually, it can be concluded from those facts that a player had Tommy John surgery, a replacement of the UCL that usually knocks a player out for a year-plus.

That didn't seem to be the case with Ohtani, who was still able to land a record-shattering, 10-year, $700 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. His agent, Nez Balelo, confirmed only that Dr. Neal ElAttrache performed a procedure on Ohtani's elbow.

The topic was one of the first questions to come up Thursday at Ohtani's introductory news conference with the Dodgers. When asked to confirm that he had undergone Tommy John surgery, Ohtani declined and indicated that the surgery was different from what we know as Tommy John.

"I’m not, obviously, an expert in the medical field, but I mean, it was a procedure," Ohtani said through his interpreter. "I'm not sure what it's called. I know it's completely different from my first time. So I don't know what you want to call it. Probably talk to my doctor about that."

Ohtani's doctor wasn't available, but his agent was.

In a scrum with reporters after Ohtani's Q&A, Balelo said his client had a less common surgery that has him recovering much faster than he did following Tommy John surgery in 2018.

The exact nature of the procedure remains unclear, but it's worth noting that ElAttrache recently received attention in the football world for pioneering a new technique to repair a torn Achilles tendon, in which a brace is placed on the damaged ligament to aid healing. New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers underwent the procedure after Week 1 and has already returned to practice, though it remains doubtful that he'll play again this season.

A second Tommy John surgery is notoriously difficult to recover from, with increases in both recovery time and failure rate, so Ohtani having avoided a second go-around would be good news for the team that just committed 70% of a billion dollars to his arm. That's assuming this surgery doesn't create similar issues, of course.

Shohei Ohtani not undergoing a second Tommy John surgery is probably good news. (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)
Shohei Ohtani not undergoing a second Tommy John surgery is probably good news. (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

Ohtani at least seems confident that he will be ready for Opening Day as a hitter, which isn't a guarantee after major elbow surgery.

"I've been taking dry hacks or dry swings for the last week," he said. "So I’m on a really good pace to be ready for Opening Day. As long as I can get into Spring Training as scheduled and be able to play in the exhibition games, I think I'll be fully ready as a hitter for Opening Day."

With Ohtani out as a pitcher for 2024, the Dodgers are left with significant uncertainty in their rotation. They got solid news on that front soon after Ohtani's news conference, with a trade for oft-injured Tampa Bay Rays starter Tyler Glasnow, but they most likely need another starting pitcher to bolster a group composed of younger players such as Bobby Miller, Emmet Sheehan and Michael Grove, as well as Walker Buehler, who is recovering from his second Tommy John surgery.