LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Angels general manager Billy Eppler confirmed on Tuesday that Japanese two-way star Shohei Ohtani received a platelet-rich plasma injection in his right elbow in October, which Eppler described as a "preventative" measure taken by Ohtani's former Japanese club, the Nippon-Ham Fighters.
Eppler said Ohtani's procedure was mentioned in the medical report distributed by Major League Baseball and was not triggered by any kind of elbow discomfort, though Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reported afterward that Ohtani has a "first-degree sprain" in his right ulnar collateral ligament, which is the least severe of UCL injuries, but could eventually lead to Tommy John surgery. A physical obtained by Yahoo Sports said Ohtani, who also has a "small free body" floating near his UCL, should still be able to participate in baseball activities with proper elbow care.
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"He underwent a thorough physical with MRI scans to both his elbow and shoulder," Eppler told MLB.com. "Scans that we conduct whenever we sign a pitcher. Based on the readings of the MRIs, there are no signs of acute or new trauma in the elbow. His elbow looked consistent with pitchers at his age and usage level. We were pleased with the results of the physical and we are happy to have the player."
Ohtani also underwent a physical examination at the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles on Thursday before agreeing to sign with the Angels.
Some Major League pitchers have been able to pitch through partial UCL tears without requiring elbow surgery, including Ohtani's countryman, Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, and new Angels teammate Garrett Richards, who received a stem-cell injection to help regenerate his damaged elbow ligament last year.
The Halos clearly still felt comfortable going after Ohtani, who received a $2.315 million signing bonus after agreeing to a Minor League contract over the weekend. The club will also pay a $20 million posting fee to the Fighters, but the overall cost is still minimal for a player of Ohtani's caliber.
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Given Ohtani's potential to impact the rotation and lineup next season, the Angels are discussing other preventative steps to ease the 23-year-old's transition to the 162-game schedule in the Majors. (In Japan, clubs play 146 games and typically have Mondays off.)
Eppler said Ohtani will not hit on days he pitches, unless the team is playing in a National League park. The Halos are also seriously considering adopting a six-man rotation next season, a concept that intrigued Eppler even before the Ohtani signing.
"We've given a ton of thought to it," Eppler said. "A lot."
The Angels' current stable of starters with options, the four additional off-days granted by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement and a desire to mirror Ohtani's once-a-week pitching schedule in Japan are a few reasons why Eppler believes a six-man rotation would be more feasible in 2018.
An expanded rotation would also be a logical way to manage Ohtani's workload in his first full season in the Majors. Ohtani has never pitched more than 160 2/3 innings in a single season, and Eppler said the Halos do not foresee him making 33 starts, the number accrued by most pitchers in a five-man rotation in a year.
Still, the rest of the Angels' starters might not be as enthused about the possibility of a six-man rotation, which would disrupt their routines between starts and could also carry financial implications for players due to the overall reduction in innings. Richards will be entering his final season before free agency, while Matthew Shoemaker, Tyler Skaggs, Andrew Heaney and JC Ramirez are eligible for arbitration, a process that considers figures like innings pitched when determining raises in salary.
Asked how he would respond to possible resistance from other starters, Eppler said he would have conversations with players and point to medical research touting the potential health benefits of a six-man rotation. That could prove to be a key selling point, as the Halos' rotation has been hampered by injuries over the past two seasons, with Richards, Heaney, Skaggs, Shoemaker, Ramirez and Nick Tropeano all spending significant time on the disabled list in 2017.
"I can tell you medically that I've had reputable doctors and biomechanists say that a six-man would be advantageous," Eppler said. "And when we're rehabilitating players, they bring up a six-man [rotation] and the merits behind that.
"If you wanted to have a 10-, 12-, 15-year career, what would you want your employer to be mindful of? Your health," he continued. "We're tasked with doing what we feel is best for the long-term health of our players. That's an important thing to me. You're striking the core of my DNA. I'm not putting players at risk. And if there's a methodology that can help players out, we're going to present it to them, because I feel I have a moral responsibility to that."
If the Angels choose not to adopt a six-man rotation, Eppler said Ohtani's innings could also be kept in check by occasionally skipping his turns in a five-man rotation. A blend between the two configurations is also a possibility.
Eppler said he intends to consult his coaching, front office and performance staffs before making a decision, which he expects to come before Spring Training.