Angels two-way player Shohei Ohtani has traversed previously uncharted territory during his young MLB career. But on Friday afternoon, he arrived at a place that, while new to him, is familiar to many of his colleagues: the disabled list.
Ohtani lasted just four innings in his start against the Royals on Wednesday thanks to a recurrence of the blister that knocked him out of action in Boston in April, but this DL trip is the result of a grade 2 sprain of the UCL in his right elbow, an unrelated and far more troubling injury. The UCL is the ligament that gets replaced during Tommy John surgery, making it the most famous piece of connective tissue in a pitcher’s body, and while any injury to the UCL now raises concerns that it might tear in the future, the only good news so far is that the sprain isn’t quite so severe just yet.
On Thursday, Ohtani received injections of platelet-rich plasma and stem cells, and doctors will evaluate his recovery in three weeks. In other words, take this syringe of healing juice and call me after the group stage of the World Cup. After a three-week layoff, Ohtani would then likely need more time to rebuild his arm strength before returning to big league action even if everything goes well.
It will surprise none of you to learn that this is very bad news for Ohtani, the Angels, baseball in general, and the planet Earth. Ohtani is special because he can pitch and play DH while taking up just one roster spot, but that cuts both ways as the Angels are also without the DH while the pitcher heals. Ohtani is, if not Los Angeles’s best pitcher, then in a virtual tie for that honor with Tyler Skaggs and Garrett Richards — neither of whom has a Nolan Ryanesque track record of durability himself. Plus, Ohtani isn’t only their second-best hitter, behind Mike Trout, but he’s the only contributing lefty bat in a lineup that begs to be Sergio Romo’d. The Angels are in third place in the AL West, behind not only the favored Astros but also the surprising Seattle Mariners, and would’ve faced an uphill climb to the playoffs even without the injuries they’ve sustained. But now Ohtani will join starting shortstop Andrelton Simmons and closer Keynan Middleton on the shelf.
Baseball at large, meanwhile, faces at least a month without its most interesting player, and even when Ohtani returns, the experience of watching him will come with hints of anxiety. Ohtani already seems precious and fragile by virtue of his youth, his slight build, and his 100 mph fastball — now we’re more aware that any one pitch could snap his UCL and put him on the shelf for 12 to 18 months. Life is an unending series of torments. Call me in three weeks.