Some days, it doesn’t pay to get out of bed and pitch:
You can see the headlines all through the Halosphere: Why did they pitch Shohei Ohtani again?! Whey did they bring him back?! How could they do this him?! HOW COULD THEY DO THIS TO US?!
As message boards and comment sections fill up with posts excoriating the Angels for allowing Shohei Ohtani to come back and pitch, and subsequently exacerbate the injury to his UCL — the injury he sustained even before he signed with the Angels last winter — to the point where he’d need surgery.
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Did the Angels break Ohtani?
No. The problem with idea that the Angels pushed Ohtani too hard is simple: it’s wrong. The painful reality is that Ohtani was probably at the point of needing surgery two months ago, but he and the Angels just didn’t know it yet, and had to find out. Remember, he already had a bruised UCL before he was signed by the Angels, and they knew this when they signed him. Pitching is tough, and
Why didn’t the Angels do this earlier?
As Jeff Fletcher explained in the Orange County Register back in June when Ohtani was first hurt,
A grade 1 sprain means the ligament is merely stretched, but not otherwise damaged. A grade 3 sprain is when the ligament is torn, always requiring surgery. There are a variety of degrees in between that are classified as grade 2 sprains, sometimes not requiring surgery.
That “variety of degrees” is what made the Angels and Ohtani put off surgery. After all, any surgery comes with risks, and no one can blame Ohtani or the Angels for trying the less drastic option first. No one picks surgery, rehab, and a year off their career as their first option if they can help it.
Why didn’t the Angels rest Ohtani until spring?
For normal people, rec league warriors and casual athletes, months of rest and rehab will probably get your UCL back to a point where you can do your thing. Professional pitchers, however, stress their arms on a wholly different level, and big leaguers who throw 100 MPH fastballs or unhittable splitters put even more stress on their arms. Ohtani, of course, throws both. The likelihood of Ohtani’s UCL recovering by then was unlikely — after all, his grade 1 strain didn’t heal despite him pitching just 25 innings in Japan in 2017 . If the Angels waited until April 2019, Ohtani would be having surgery in July 2019.
So was this unavoidable?
Probably. It’s tempting (and fun!) to just blame the Angels for yet another pitching injury, but that doesn’t seem to be the case this time.
Can Ohtani DH next year?
Yes. Jeff Fletcher tweeted that “My understanding — and this isn’t confirmed yet — is it only takes 4-5 months to be able to hit after TJ.” Since Ohtani would be a DH and wouldn’t throw, he could very well be the Angels’ everyday DH in 2019. Obviously, no confirmation yet on that. It’s all just speculation at this point, but given that Ohtani has been the Angels’ second-best hitter this season, that would be a huge contribution Ohtani can bring even if he doesn’t pitch.
How much does this stink?
A lot. My advice to Angel fans is to take a step back, have a drink of your choice, and cry it out a little.