Ohtani has UCL tear, won't pitch again in '23

August 24th, 2023

ANAHEIM -- The Angels were dealt a massive blow on Wednesday, as two-way superstar  was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow after exiting his start after just 1 1/3 innings in a 9-4 loss in Game 1 of a doubleheader against the Reds.

It’s the second time that Ohtani has suffered a torn UCL. He had the same injury in 2018, and it forced him to undergo Tommy John surgery and not pitch in 2019. The Angels, though, are waiting on a second opinion on Ohtani before they decide whether he’ll need to undergo surgery.

But Ohtani, the heavy favorite to win the American League MVP Award for the second time in three seasons, will not pitch again this season after he underwent an MRI exam that revealed the tear in between the doubleheader games.

“We did imaging between games and he does have a tear, and he won’t pitch the rest of the year,” general manager Perry Minasian said. “We’re going to get a second opinion and go from there. It’s basically day to day. Obviously, he hit. But that’s where we’re at.”

Despite being told his diagnosis, Ohtani asked to remain in the lineup as the designated hitter in Game 2’s 7-3 loss and went 1-for-5 with a hustle double in the fifth. The Angels don’t yet know whether Ohtani will be able to hit the rest of the season or if he’ll need an operation that will cause him to shut it down early. In 2018, he suffered his torn UCL on Sept. 2 and continued to hit the rest of the way until undergoing Tommy John surgery on Oct. 1.

​​“I don't know what to expect,” Minasian said. “We’re gonna go day to day and just see how it goes. See how he feels. I think as we get more information, as far as recovery time and all those types of things. We'll have more information down the road."

The injury comes at the worst possible time for Ohtani, who is set to be a free agent after the season and appeared to be headed toward securing the largest contract in Major League history. But if he has to undergo a second Tommy John surgery, which has a much lower success rate than a first operation, he would miss the 2024 season on the mound and possibly even longer, which would hurt his value.

He struggled in two starts in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, when he returned to the mound after his first UCL tear, and didn’t appear fully recovered until his AL MVP season in 2021. Minasian said it’s too early to know what to expect from Ohtani going forward, adding he believes he has what it takes to make a full recovery from his injury.

“I would never put any limitations on players in general, and especially him,” Minasian said. “He’s shown it’s possible to do it and excel at it. I expect him to bounce back and do what he needs to do to get back to where he was.”

Ohtani, 29, made 23 starts on the mound this season, going 10-5 with a 3.14 ERA and 167 strikeouts in 132 innings. He skipped his last scheduled start due to arm fatigue, and that was the diagnosis the Angels gave when he initially left his outing on Wednesday.

But Minasian said Ohtani never complained about any elbow issues until Wednesday, as he previously only dealt with a blister on his right middle finger and cramping.

“He never complained about anything; he just had cramps and was dehydrated,” Minasian said. “But today was the day he came out of the game and said he had some pain in the elbow area. Today was the first day we’d heard of it.”

Ohtani also smacked his MLB-leading 44th homer in the first inning of Game 1 and is batting .304/.405/.664 with 22 doubles, seven triples, 91 RBIs and 17 stolen bases in 126 games. Minasian added that it said a lot about Ohtani’s character that he wanted to play in Game 2 despite knowing the severity of his elbow injury.

“It's obviously unfortunate, but I think him playing the second game says a lot about the guy,” Minasian said. “How much he likes playing. How much his teammates mean to him and this place means to him. The fact that he played, to me, is beyond impressive.”