Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani had a successful procedure on his elbow, his agent Nez Balelo announced on Tuesday.
“Shohei had his procedure this morning at Kerlan & Jobe Orthopedic Clinic in Los Angeles,” Balelo said in a statement. “The final decision and type of procedure was made with a heavy emphasis on the big picture. Shohei wanted to make sure the direction taken gave him every opportunity to hit and pitch for many years to come.”
Said Dr. Neal ElAttrache, who performed the procedure: “The ultimate plan, after deliberation with Shohei, was to repair the issue at hand and to reinforce the healthy ligament in place while adding viable tissue for the longevity of the elbow. I expect full recovery and he’ll be ready to hit without any restrictions come opening day of 2024 and [hit and pitch] come 2025.”
Ohtani shared a statement on his Instagram account confirming the procedure before adding: “Thank you very much for everyone’s prayers and kind words. It was very unfortunate that I couldn’t finish out the year on the field, but I will be rooting on the boys until the end. I will work as hard as I can and do my best to come back on the diamond stronger than ever. Go Halos!!”
Ohtani officially accepted the premature end to his season the evening of Sept. 15, after an MRI revealed the ailing right oblique he had been nursing for almost two weeks showed irritation of the muscle.
Ohtani had already been shut down from pitching after tearing his right ulnar collateral ligament pitching in a game on Aug. 23. But after hearing the MRI results about his oblique and speaking with the Angels, he shifted his focus into getting treatment for his elbow.
“I think for him, it went right into surgery or procedure mode [for his UCL],” general manager Perry Minasian told reporters during a news conference at Angel Stadium last Saturday.
Ohtani had packed up most of his personal belongings in his locker in the Angels clubhouse on Friday, considering he could get the surgery done the next day. When that did not happen, Ohtani remained around the team through the rest of the homestand against the Detroit Tigers. He will return for the final homestand of the season, so that he can continue to be around his teammates.
Ohtani tore his UCL while pitching against the Reds on Aug. 23, recording four outs in the first game of a doubleheader before being pulled. Manager Phil Nevin said that he “saw a look” and decided to go out to the mound to check on him.
Ohtani remained the team’s designated hitter in the team’s second game of the doubleheader that day and continued to serve as DH until Sept. 3 against the Athletics, the last game he played before injuring his oblique during batting practice before the next day’s game.
Amid criticism over the team’s handling of Ohtani’s health after his UCL injury, general manager Perry Minasian told reporters Aug. 26 that the team offered to conduct imaging after he experienced a finger cramp earlier in the month, but the two-way star declined.
Minasian suggested the Angels were proactive, offering to do imaging exams after Ohtani reported a finger cramp on Aug. 3. Ohtani and his agency, CAA, were not worried the cramp was a symptom of a deeper problem and declined, Minasian explained.
“And I understand why,” Minasian said. “It was a cramp in his finger and they didn’t believe it warranted imaging. … I have a finger cramp and you normally wouldn’t image a finger cramp.”
The tear in Ohtani’s ligament is in a different place than the last time he tore his UCL in June 2018 — an injury that led to Tommy John surgery, formally known as a UCL reconstruction.
Balelo earlier had confirmed around the same time Ohtani injured his oblique that the UCL reconstruction Ohtani underwent in 2018 remains intact.
“This is a best-case scenario,” Balelo said regarding the feedback they received from doctors. Balelo said this tear is at the lower end of Ohtani’s ligament.
Balelo also tried to assure reporters that Ohtani would be ready to DH at the onset of the 2024 season.
“Shohei is going to be in somebody’s lineup DHing when the bell rings,” Balelo said. “We know that. We’re not going to push that. He’s going to be good to go.”
Ohtani has not addressed the media since his last pitching start on Aug. 9 against the Giants.
In 2018, Ohtani was initially shut down as the Angels tried to treat his elbow with platelet rich plasma and stem cell injections. He returned one month later only as the designated hitter and by September, he decided to get Tommy John surgery — a procedure completed on Oct. 1 of that year by ElAttrache.
Ohtani’s 2019 season was delayed as he continued to rehabilitate from the procedure, formally called a UCL reconstruction, and returned May 7 as the team’s DH against Detroit. He did not pitch again in a big league game until the COVID-delayed 60-game season in 2020.
The typical return time from Tommy John surgery is 12-14 months. A return to hitting can happen sooner, similar to Ohtani’s previous experience.
Hitting is usually one of the early baseball activities a baseball player can return to after Tommy John surgery, Dr. Eric Bowman said in an interview with The Times on Aug. 24. Bowman is an orthopedic surgeon and assistant professor in the department of orthopedic surgery at Vanderbilt Medical Center.
Bowman also is the head physician for Vanderbilt University’s sports teams and the Nashville Sounds minor league baseball team. He is not Ohtani’s physician and spoke to The Times as an expert on UCL injuries.
“First you start tossing and hitting is one of the earlier things that you can start doing,” Bowman said, “and then as your throws get further and more velocity, then you build up to working basically off the mound and starting pitching. There is a progression. Hitting seems to be less stress, and so they can often go back to playing sooner from that standpoint.”
Whether Ohtani will return to hitting and pitching as a player for the Angels, however, is unclear.
Ohtani is in the final months of his contract with the Angels. He is eligible to become a free agent the day after the conclusion of the World Series.
Prior to Ohtani’s second UCL injury, the two-way star was rumored and anticipated to receive record-breaking offers in excess of over $500 million. But baseball insiders who spoke to The Times in the wake of his injury said even after his injury, while the amount of money he could be offered in free agency might be less, he will still be one of the most heavily sought after free agents in MLB history.