We thought we had seen the last of Shohei Ohtani this season; however, it seems like he’s nearing a return to the Los Angeles Angels…as a designated hitter.
Ohtani has not pitched since June 4th after it had been determined that his previously reported grade 1 ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) sprain had progressed to a grade 2. In most instances, this requires season-ending Tommy John UCL reconstruction; however, due to the timing of this discovery, Ohtani and the team decided to treat it conservatively via a stem cell and platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections and rehabilitation.
It now appears that he is progressing well as Angels manager Mike Scioscia recently stated that Ohtani could have resumed hitting immediately had it not been determined by the medical staff that a 3-week time period of the above-stated injections and rest were indicated. This past weekend, Ohtani participated as a hitter in two simulated games and reportedly “looked good” according to Angels General Manager Billy Eppler.
Ohtani is currently on a hitting program with an eye on returning to the Angels’ lineup as soon as this week to serve as their designated hitter. The Angels have not ruled out the possibility of Ohtani returning as a pitcher either, although that remains to be seen.
The track record of managing UCL tears conservatively has not been great historically, although it has been done to varying levels of success (fellow Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka of the New York Yankees rehabbed a partial UCL tear in 2014 and 2015 and has been able to pitch at a high level ever since).
Ohtani’s case is interesting in that regardless of whether he had the surgery last month or waits until later this year, he would ultimately still miss the entire 2019 season if conservative management fails. So the Angels are taking a cautious approach with little downside in hopes that he can come back in some capacity and contribute to the club. However, consider the Angels currently sit in 4th place and Ohtani’s young age, the team won’t do anything to jeopardize his long term health.
Look for Ohtani to be activated from the disabled list sometime this week and serve as the Angels’ designated hitter. While it remains a possibility that he returns to the mound sometime in 2018, history tells us that the odds of it working out long term are not great.