Published 3:04 p.m. UTC Sep 6, 2018
It stinks for Shohei Ohtani.
It stinks for the Los Angeles Angels.
And it sure stinks for the rest of us, every fan of Major League Baseball, too.
Shohei Ohtani, the Angels rookie who stole our hearts, captivating baseball with his arm and bat in a fashion no one has seen since the days of Babe Ruth, was informed Wednesday that he needs Tommy John surgery.
The next time we’ll see him on the mound is spring training, 2020.
We were braced for this day, ever since he was shut down in June with a sprained elbow, but our hopes were buoyed when he returned to the mound last week.
But reality slapped us in the face when the latest MRI result revealed that the platelet-rich plasma and stem-cell injections did not improve the grade 2 sprain of his ulnar collateral ligament.
The Angels announced that Ohtani has been advised to undergo Tommy John surgery, taking him off the mound, and perhaps away from the plate, too, to avoid further complications.
The public’s instant reaction was to ridicule the Angels for even permitting him to pitch again this season, considering the Angels weren’t going anywhere in the AL West. Yet, let’s take a step back and breathe. The Angels absolutely made the right decision.
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You see, if they had waited until spring training to see Ohtani pitch again, and he needed Tommy John surgery, he wouldn’t have returned until late in the 2020 season, if not 2021. Now, at least the Angels know the outcome, can rest him for 14 to 16 months, and have him back in the rotation in 2020.
Ohtani still was in the lineup Wednesday against the Texas Rangers — he hit two home runs, one in the fifth inning and one in the eighth — and can remain a DH until he undergoes surgery, but why delay the inevitable? It’s possible, of course, that Ohtani can even decline surgery, and stay in the Angels’ lineup, but unless he starts hitting 50 homers a year, it makes no sense to turn baseball’s greatest two-way talent since Ruth into a DH.
The man can certainly hit — batting .276 with 18 homers in 82 games — but his greatest talent is on the mound, where he can be one of the top five pitchers in the game, if not a multiple Cy Young winner.
This is no one’s fault. There’s no one to blame. The Angels and everyone else in baseball knew that he had a Grade 1 sprain last year when they signed him out of Japan. Now, he can undergo surgery and again be electrifying on the mound again, where he showed glimpses of his talent going 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA, striking out 63 batters in 52 innings.
You know he’s heartbroken today. So are we. He mesmerized us when he stepped on the mound, or even when he walked to the plate.
He’s everything that’s right about the sport, a 23-year-old kid who wanted to be a major-league ballplayer so badly, he forfeited at least $200 million simply by pursuing his dreams two years early. He instead earned the minimum salary of $545,000 this year instead of waiting until he turned 25 when there would be no international spending limits.
Hopefully, he’ll get his money one day. Hopefully, we’ll get to see him pitch and hit again. And hopefully, these 18 months will fly by.
Ohtani certainly whet our appetite, but by 2020 we’ll be more than ready for the main course.
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