Posted on June 8, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine
When the Los Angeles Angels removed Shohei Ohtani from his start Wednesday after just four innings, they thought they were being cautious because of a blister. However, the problem turned out to be much more serious. On Friday, the Angels placed Ohtani on the 10-day DL because of a Grade 2 sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his right elbow. He will be sidelined for three weeks and then re-evaluated.
The injury being labeled a Grade 2 strain implies there is at least a partial tear of the ligament. Such an injury often ends in the pitcher undergoing Tommy John surgery. However, Ohtani and the Angels are going down that path just yet. On Thursday, Ohtani received injections of both stem cells and platelet-rich plasma (PRP). That treatment has been used with some success in the past in helping pitchers avoid Tommy John. When Ohtani’s re-evaluated in three weeks, the Angels should have a better idea if the surgery is necessary.
It should be noted that Ohtani received a PRP injection to treat a less severe Grade 1 strain of his UCL prior to signing with the Angels in December. After the signing, Angels GM Billy Eppler noted that Ohtani’s elbow “looked consistent with pitchers at his age and usage level” on scans the team’s doctors performed.
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Unfortunately, Friday’s announcement of a Grade 2 strain would appear to indicate that Ohtani’s elbow is in worse shape than it was when he signed in December. To be fair, Ohtani appeared to get better following his previous PRP injection. However, with elbow problems resurfacing, the Angels may have to prepare themselves for the possibility that the 23-year old may need Tommy John surgery. At this point, Tommy John would likely sideline Ohtani for the rest of this season and all of next season.
On the season, Ohtani has made nine starts. He’s 4-1 with a 3.10 ERA. The Angels have been careful with him, especially after a blister issue back in April. However, those issues appeared to be behind him. Ohtani has allowed two runs or fewer in his last five starts, lowering his ERA from 4.43 to 3.10 in that span.
The elbow injury will also deprive the Angels of Ohtani’s bat. As a part-time DH, Ohtani is hitting .289 with an OPS of .907. His strikeout rate has been a little high. But he’s also contributed 15 extra-base hits, including six home runs, in 114 at-bats.
Considering his impact as both a pitcher and hitter, losing Ohtani is a tough blow. Outside of Ohtani, the Angels aren’t exactly fully healthy either. Also, despite winning four straight heading into Friday, Los Angeles is still 4.5 games back in the AL West, behind both the Astros and Mariners. They are also 3.5 games back in the wild-card race.
The Angels have shown genuine promise this season. But if they end up losing Ohtani, it would change the shape of their entire season. Even losing him for the next three or four weeks will be difficult for them to endure. For now, the Angels can only hope Ohtani can avoid surgery and return to the team as soon as possible. Otherwise, their postseason odds just got a lot longer.