Shohei Ohtani clears hurdle in latest checkup by Angels

ByAlden Gonzalez via ESPN logo
Friday, July 20, 2018

Shohei Ohtani, the Japanese two-way sensation who is hoping to avoid Tommy John surgery, has been cleared to resume throwing.

In a statement Thursday, the Los Angeles Angels said Ohtani's six-week re-evaluation revealed that his ulnar collateral ligament "continues to show improved healing."

Ohtani had stem cells and platelet rich plasma injected into the ligament on June 7, one day after he complained of stiffness in his elbow after a start against the Kansas City Royals. Less than a month later, Ohtani returned as a designated hitter and has gone 6-for-24 with a home run since being activated off the disabled list.

The Angels, who begin the second half by hosting the first-place Houston Astros on Friday, did not disclose a timetable for Ohtani's potential return to their rotation. Last week, Garrett Richards, another top-of-the-rotation starter who opted for stem-cell therapy two years earlier, underwent Tommy John surgery that will keep him out until 2020.

Regardless of whether he has surgery now or at the end of the season, Ohtani also would not be able to return to pitching until 2020. The Angels don't lose any time by waiting to see if the alternative treatment works. But they do need to make sure Ohtani can throw at full intensity off a mound before declaring that he does not need the surgery, and it appears he will at least try to do so.

Ohtani has an .887 OPS in 157 plate appearances and a 3.10 ERA in 49 1/3 innings as a rookie. Angels general manager Billy Eppler would not even acknowledge the possibility of Tommy John surgery when speaking to ESPN about Ohtani last month.

"Nobody has said 'surgery' to me," Eppler said then. "So, I'm not going to think about it until somebody who's a qualified M.D. tells me to think about it."