The most exciting baseball story of the season looks like it will have an unhappy ending, with news breaking this weekend that the Angels pitching and hitting threat Shohei Ohtani has a Grade 2 Ulnar Collateral Ligament injury – a usual precursor to Tommy John surgery.
The Angels are holding out hope but very rarely do these stories have happy endings. An injury of some sort seemed destined to befall the rookie 23 year old from Japan, if nothing else because he is hitting several days a week AND pitching. How many American League pitchers do we see get hurt just running the bases in inter-league play? A hamstring injury we could take though – even an opaque oblique strain. But his elbow?
Many an eyebrow was raised after the Angels signed Ohtani when it came out he had been treated last season for a partial tear already but the Angles insisted that they had checked it out and were ready to go.
Even now he is supposedly just being shut down for precautionary measures. He will undergo some plasma therapy which has worked for some pitchers in the past and by being extra cautious they are hoping to avoid the inevitable. There is also some talk about if he could continue hitting even while his throwing is shut down but if surgery is needed that too would be out of the question.
If you missed it – he was having a terrific season. Though 9th on the team in hits – he did it in only 34 games. He was 3rd on the team in batting average and had hit 6 home runs. On the mound though is where he had really dazzled. He nearly threw a perfect game earlier in the season, and was 4-1 with a 3.10 ERA. He had 61 strikeouts in just under 50 innings pitched and 9 starts. Opponents were hitting just .202 against him.
As medicine continues to advance – remember it is only since 1974 that a UCL tear wouldn’t ruin a career – many hope to pinpoint what causes these tears more definitely and how to prevent them better. Certainly there has been a dramatic increase in the surgery as pitchers throw harder, specialize in baseball from a younger age, and throw high stress pitches like curveballs more often. See this excellent chart below about the increase in TJ surgeries:
We are all certainly hoping for the best. If there is any player that has already defied all expectations we had for him, it is Shohei Ohtani and hopefully he can do the same with this injury.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim continue to play well in the competitive American League West, but taking out the Astros and Mariners will be much harder without their ace in the hole. On top of that, just in the last week the Angels have been hit with injuries to key players in Andrelton Simmons and outfielder Kole Calhoun. Already three other Angel pitchers have had or will be having Tommy John surgery this season including Matt Shoemaker, Kenyan Middleton and Blake Wood. Adding Ohtani would be a potentially crippling blow.