LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Japanese two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani, whose signing with the Los Angeles Angels last week was hailed as a game-changer for that franchise, reportedly has an injured ligament in his pitching elbow that, while not considered dire, required a platelet-rich-plasma shot in October and could portend more serious problems down the road.
According to a report late Tuesday by Yahoo Sports, which cited the results of a physical exam Ohtani underwent in Tokyo in late November, the injury is characterized as a first-degree sprain of his right (throwing) ulnar collateral ligament. Although a first-degree sprain is considered mild, further damage could require Tommy John ligament-replacement surgery.
For now, Ohtani is not considered a candidate for surgery. The PRP shot, in which centrifuge-spun blood is returned to the body to promote healing, was given Oct. 20, according to Yahoo. While elbow injuries are common among pitchers, a PRP shot indicates a higher level of concern. In addition, Yahoo reported, Ohtani has a “small free body” — probably a bone chip — floating near his UCL.
Ohtani, a 23-year-old who is both a right-handed pitcher and left-handed slugger with impeccable credentials in Japan in both disciplines, was posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, earlier this month, and after a thorough vetting process, last week chose to sign with the Angels. Because of MLB’s international-signing rules, the Angels signed Ohtani for just a $2.3 million bonus — plus a $20 million posting fee to the Ham Fighters.
Ohtani missed much of the 2017 season in Japan with a right ankle injury that ultimately required surgery in October and was expected to sideline him for three months this winter.
The baseball industry was full of whispers of a problem with Ohtani’s elbow. But Tuesday’s news is not seen as catastrophic, both because of the mild damage indicated in the physical exam and because, even in a worst-case scenario in which Ohtani requires surgery, the Angels’ minimal financial outlay and the six years of control they have over his rights means they can be conservative with his health.
“Shohei underwent a thorough physical with MRI scans to both his elbow and his shoulder,” Angels GM Billy Eppler told Yahoo. “Those are scans we conduct whenever we sign a pitcher. Based on the readings of those MRIs, there are not signs of acute trauma in the elbow. It looks consistent with players his age. We are pleased with the results of the physical and we are very happy to have the player.”
Chelsea Janes contributed to this report.