Ohtani’s locker was cleaned out after Friday’s 11-2 loss to the Tigers, the 11th straight game that he was held out of the lineup. He initially sustained his oblique injury on a swing while taking batting practice on Sept. 4. He remained day to day and was even in the lineup on Monday in Seattle before being scratched.
The decision makes sense, especially considering Ohtani also tore his ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow on Aug. 23. He’s also already considered a lock to win the AL MVP Award for the second time in three years. Ohtani is scheduled to undergo surgery for the UCL tear as soon as next week, although general manager Perry Minasian said before Saturday’s game that he doesn’t know if Ohtani will undergo his second Tommy John surgery or a different operation.
"I think, in his mind, he thought there was a possibility for a procedure today, and that's why he packed," Minasian said. "It’s nothing malicious. There's no story here. He's so focused on, 'Season's over, I’ve gotta get ready for '24.' And that was what his mindset was. He's planning on being here the last homestand. He's going to be here today, tomorrow. I don’t have details on the procedure, but he wants to get it done as soon as he can."
There’s a chance Ohtani could avoid Tommy John surgery because the UCL tear is in a different spot than in 2018, but either way, it puts a new wrinkle on his upcoming free agency, as he isn’t likely to pitch in 2024. Ohtani, though, is still expected to command a record deal in free agency because of his unique two-way prowess.
His agent, Nez Balelo, said Ohtani would be ready to hit on Opening Day in 2024, no matter what kind of surgery he undergoes. And manager Phil Nevin was one of many around the organization to say he’s confident Ohtani will return as a two-way player after his elbow operation.
“Everything is going to go well for him,” Nevin said. “He’s going to attack his rehab and come back stronger than ever. I firmly believe that.”
Ohtani, 29, had the best offensive season of his six-year career and batted .304/.412/.654 with 44 homers, eight triples, 26 doubles, 95 RBIs, 102 runs and 20 stolen bases in 135 games. He leads the AL in homers, triples and walks. He also played in 10 games as designated hitter after suffering his UCL tear, as he wanted to remain in the lineup. He was held out of the lineup just twice during the season before sustaining his oblique injury.
On the mound, Ohtani went 10-5 with a 3.14 ERA and 167 strikeouts in 132 innings. But he failed to get to 162 innings, so he will not rank among qualified starting pitchers like he did last year, when he posted a 2.33 ERA in a career-high 166 innings.
“Shohei is one of a kind,” Minasian said. “He’s a great player, great person. I think anybody that knows him or has a chance to be around him knows he's a team guy. He's a pretty special guy, a pretty special player and it's been a pleasure to have a chance to get to know him over the last three years. Hopefully he's here for a long time.”
It was another incredible season that saw Ohtani win World Baseball Classic MVP honors in leading Team Japan to the title, and he was also named an All-Star as a pitcher and a hitter for the third straight season. And after six years with the Angels, his future with the club is uncertain, as he’s heading into free agency over the offseason.
The Angels have made it clear they plan to try to re-sign Ohtani this offseason, but it’ll ultimately be up to him, as he’ll have plenty of suitors and has stated in the past how much winning means to him.
“It says a lot that he still plans to be here that last homestand,” Minasian said. “He loves this place. And we love him.”