It took less than a week before Los Angeles Angels fans could start panicking about their new acquisition. Turns out, Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani had a platelet rich plasma injection in his pitching elbow just months before signing with the club.
Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci said Ohtani had the injection in October for preventative reasons, not because something was drastically wrong:
Meanwhile, MLB circulated Ohtani’s medical history. Sources from two of the teams say the report included a notation that Ohtani underwent a platelet-rich plasma injection on his right elbow in October. PRP has become popular as a conservative, nonsurgical treatment to address a wide variety of elbow issues. In some cases, such as with Zack Greinke in 2013 and Chris Sale in ’14, it treats inflammation and irritation. (Both pitchers missed only a few starts.) In other cases, such as strains or tears to the flexor tendon or ulnar collateral ligament, it is used instead of surgery. Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka, for instance, underwent PRP therapy in 2014 to treat a small UCL tear and has pitched effectively since then. Other pitchers who tried PRP eventually needed Tommy John surgery, including Clay Buchholz and Drew Smyly this year.
There are a few things to note here, some of which are already covered by Verducci:
• Ohtani and his representatives were up front about the treatment. Every team knew he had it before they got too involved in the process. Maybe that scared some teams off, but it appeared a number of clubs were still interested in the 23-year-old even after hearing about it.
• A PRP injection doesn’t mean there’s a serious injury present. Verducci notes that Zack Greinke and Chris Sale have undergone PRP injections and both have been just fine. We also know Masahiro Tanaka has used it to help with his UCL tear and hasn’t experienced negative side effects.
• Of course there are pitchers who have had it and then needed more serious operations. You don’t get a PRP injection for nothing. In some cases, maybe it’s to help something minor, like inflammation. In Tanaka’s it’s helped with discomfort. But pitchers break. That’s what they do. So you’ll find plenty who had it done and then needed Tommy John weeks, months or years later.
• Even if teams were concerned, Ohtani’s cost was well worth the risk. After paying a $20 million posting fee, the Angels will have Ohtani at a rookie’s salary. He won’t be eligible for free agency for six years, meaning there won’t be a major payday in his future until then. In a worst case scenario where Ohtani needs a major procedure, he sits out a year and the Angels get five years of him at a negligible cost.
Think of that last scenario like any injured player in the Major League Baseball draft. Teams will take players in need of — or recovering from — Tommy John surgery, knowing it will be worth it when that player returns. The Washington Nationals did that with both Lucas Giolito and Erick Fedde. Giolito posted a 2.38 ERA with the Chicago White Sox last season. Fedde remains a consensus top-100 prospect.
Though Ohtani’s issue doesn’t sound serious, we can’t blame Angels fans for being concerned. Garrett Richards had a PRP injection in May 2016, and still had injury issues in 2017.
All pitchers are different, so there’s no telling what this means for Ohtani. Even in a worst case scenario, though, he was well worth the investment for Los Angeles.
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Chris Cwik is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik