ANAHEIM -- As closer Carlos Estévez walked into the Angels’ clubhouse before Friday’s game against the Tigers, he noticed Shohei Ohtani was packing things up at his locker.
Estévez was naturally curious and walked over to Ohtani, who explained he had undergone an MRI exam that revealed there was still some irritation in his right oblique and that he was shutting it down for the season. And with an operation looming to repair his torn ulnar collateral ligament suffered on Aug. 23, Ohtani figured it made sense to clear out his stuff ahead of his surgery.
“It’s a bummer about his oblique because he was really trying to come back, and I respect that,” Estévez said. “He knows what decisions to make. I told him I really respect what he does, and it’s really amazing to see a guy do this. And just the effort he puts in every day. I just told him, ‘Don’t change, be the same guy.’”
Estévez was one of several players who spoke about the immeasurable impact Ohtani has made with the Angels, both on the field and in the clubhouse. Ohtani, who is considered a lock to win the AL MVP for the second time in three seasons, is headed for free agency, and it’s far from a guarantee he’ll be back with the Angels next year.
Left-hander Patrick Sandoval, whose locker is next to Ohtani’s, admitted it was strange seeing Ohtani’s stuff packed up on Friday but said he’s been nothing but a great teammate over the years. He called Ohtani a “good friend” and said their conversations evolved from talking to just about baseball to a wide variety of topics.
“It was a blessing to watch him grow and become the player he is,” Sandoval said. “I watched him work every day, and it helped me out a lot. Just watching him prepare for games and get his body right and the way he goes about his work. He’s ultra-professional, and I admire the way he works.”
Catcher Logan O’Hoppe said he appreciated the way Ohtani treated him as a rookie and said it was always a special day when he caught Ohtani. O'Hoppe, who missed four months with a torn labrum in his left shoulder suffered in mid-April, served as Ohtani's catcher five times this season and Ohtani posted a 0.81 ERA in those outings.
“Those are days I didn’t take for granted,” O’Hoppe said. “I learned a lot from him. When he was pitching, it was killing me not to be back there and catching. But I got a front-row seat for it. And I’m grateful I got to see his best.”
Ohtani won’t join the Angels on their road trip to Tampa Bay and Minnesota, as he’s expected to undergo surgery on his elbow, although it hasn’t been announced yet what kind of operation he’ll need. But Ohtani is expected to be around the club for the final homestand, even if he gets surgery, as he wants to be able to spend it with his teammates.
Manager Phil Nevin said that’s just the kind of person that Ohtani is, and that he’s hoping that Ohtani decides to re-sign with the Angels this offseason.
“Of course, I want him back,” Nevin said. “Everybody here wants Shohei. But there are 30 teams that want Shohei on their team. But it would mean the world to me [for him] to come back. I think he fits in well in the clubhouse with his relationships with the players we have. The way he’s helped a lot of the young guys here. There’s a comfort zone here. And if you go somewhere else, you have to step out of your comfort zone, so of course I want him back.”