<
>

Shohei Ohtani shifts focus to elbow procedure as season ends

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Shohei Ohtani underwent an MRI on Friday afternoon that showed lingering irritation in his right oblique, prompting him to shut down his season as a hitter and shift his focus to treating the torn ulnar collateral ligament that previously ended his season as a pitcher, Los Angeles Angels general manager Perry Minasian said Saturday.

"I don't have details on the procedure," Minasian said, "but obviously he wants to get that as quick as he can and start getting ready for '24."

Ohtani, who'll be a free agent at season's end, plans on continuing to hit and pitch down the road, and his agent, Nez Balelo of CAA, previously said he will be ready to at least hit "when the bell rings" at the start of the 2024 season.

Ohtani could use platelet-rich plasma and stem-cell therapy to treat the tear in his right UCL, but it seems more likely that he'll go the surgical route, either with Tommy John surgery or an internal bracing procedure or some combination of both. Any invasive procedure would probably rule out Ohtani as a pitcher in 2024.

"Shohei -- he's one of a kind," Minasian said. "Great player, great person. I think anybody that knows him, has a chance to talk to him, be around him -- he's a team guy. He's a pretty special guy, he's a pretty special player, and it's been a pleasure to get to know him these last three years and hopefully he's here for a long time."

Ohtani, 29, suffered an oblique strain during a rare session of outdoor batting practice on Sept. 4 and proceeded to miss the next 11 games. He left Angel Stadium at around 4 p.m. PT on Friday to undergo an MRI, Minasian said, then received his results early in the Angels' ensuing game against the Detroit Tigers. Media members entered the home clubhouse at Angel Stadium later that night to find that Ohtani's locker had been mostly cleared out, creating a stir on social media that Minasian tried his best to diffuse during his news conference on Saturday.

"I think in his mind he thought there was a possibility for a procedure today, and that's why he packed," Minasian said. "Nothing malicious. There's no story here. He's so focused on, 'Season's over, I gotta get ready for '24,' and that was what his mindset was. He's planning on being here the last homestand. He's going to be here today, tomorrow."

Ohtani put together another spectacular season and appears to be a lock to win the American League's Most Valuable Player Award for the second time in three years. He slashed .304/.412/.654 while leading the AL in home runs (44), walks (91) and total bases (325) as a hitter and went 10-5 with a 3.14 ERA in 132 innings as a pitcher, striking out 167 batters and issuing 55 walks. Despite pitching and hitting for only about five out of six months, Ohtani's 9.0 FanGraphs wins above replacement easily leads the majors.

The Angels, however, are barreling toward their eighth consecutive losing season, which would set a franchise record. Despite also employing Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon, both of whom have been beset by injuries these past three years, the Angels haven't even been relevant in the stretch run of the regular season in their six years with Ohtani.

Asked about the chances of re-signing him as a free agent, Minasian said: "That would be a question for him. But I think he really enjoys his time here. Obviously, he's had three of the greatest -- if not the greatest -- years any player has ever had. I think he enjoys his teammates and the area and the fan base and the organization. There's a lot of trust and a lot of communication. I hope he's here for a long time."

The Angels, under then-GM Billy Eppler and former manager Mike Scioscia, recruited Ohtani out of Japan in December 2017 but got only half a season out of him as a two-way player within the first two years. Ohtani was diagnosed with a Grade 2 tear of his right UCL in June 2018 and was recommended Tommy John surgery in September, after PRP and stem-cell therapy did not take. He continued to hit through the end of the season and underwent Tommy John surgery in October, which kept him out of the lineup until May of the following season.

Ohtani struggled mightily as a two-way player during the COVID-19-shortened season of 2020, then put together a three-year stretch that will go down as one of the most impressive in baseball history. As a hitter, Ohtani slashed .277/.379/.585 with 124 home runs, 290 RBIs and 57 stolen bases in 447 games. As a pitcher, he accumulated 34 wins and posted a 2.84 ERA in 428⅔ innings, striking out 542 batters in the process. If not for a record-breaking home run season from Aaron Judge in 2022, he would have won three consecutive MVPs.

"He's a great player," Minasian said. "Great player that can do things on a baseball field that nobody else can do. As good of a player as he is, the thing I appreciate the most is the preparation part of it. The want-to, the care. This is somebody that puts everything he has into it, and I have a ton of respect for that."

Ohtani hasn't spoken publicly since Aug. 9, his last full start before learning about his UCL tear when he next took the mound 14 days later. Ohtani found out about the injury shortly after an early exit from the first game of a doubleheader and was in the lineup for Game 2. He then accompanied the Angels on a three-city road trip through New York, Philadelphia and Oakland, serving as the team's designated hitter throughout. The oblique injury occurred hours before the first game of the ensuing homestand.

Ohtani continually worked to be in the lineup nonetheless, getting scratched on a couple of occasions. Earlier this week, while the Angels were in Seattle, Minasian saw him in the batting cages "taking massive hacks" to test the injury as much as possible.

"He wants to play," Minasian said, "and that's what we love about him."

Ohtani's elbow procedure will be decided on between him and his representation at CAA. The Angels, who will technically be his employer for only 2½ more weeks, haven't really been involved in that process.

"There's discussions, and once they lock something down, there will be communication," Minasian said. "Sho and his group will handle that, determine what they wanna do and how they wanna do it, who they wanna do it with, and I respect that. I'll obviously have that information at some point. But definitely respect his decision."