MINNEAPOLIS -- Turns out that the Angels have more to worry about than Shohei Ohtani's blister.Two days after Ohtani departed his start against the Royals on Wednesday after four innings with a blister on his right middle finger, the Angels announced that they had placed Ohtani on the disabled list
MINNEAPOLIS -- Turns out that the Angels have more to worry about than Shohei Ohtani's blister.
Two days after Ohtani departed his start against the Royals on Wednesday after four innings with a blister on his right middle finger, the Angels announced that they had placed Ohtani on the disabled list with a Grade 2 sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Ohtani, who received both platelet-rich plasma and stem-cell injections Thursday in Los Angeles, will be evaluated in three weeks.
General manager Billy Eppler said Ohtani complained of stiffness in his elbow after he got his blister drained Wednesday, prompting the Angels to order an MRI exam that revealed the sprain. Yahoo! Sports reported in December that Ohtani had received a PRP injection in October to heal a Grade 1 sprain, which is considered the least severe of UCL injuries. The procedure was disclosed in the medical report that was distributed to all 30 MLB clubs prior to the courtship of the two-way phenom.
The latest announcement of a Grade 2 sprain for Ohtani would seem to indicate the tear has gotten worse, but Eppler said the Angels remain optimistic that he'll be able to avoid Tommy John surgery.
"We're hopeful that he can," Eppler said Friday during a conference call with reporters. "This is completely treatable with the biologic prescription that the doctors recommended."
Eppler said Ohtani made no mention of elbow discomfort before Wednesday. Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney and JC Ramirez also received stem-cell injections in an attempt to repair damaged UCLs in their throwing elbows, though all but Richards eventually succumbed to Tommy John surgery.
Losing Ohtani for an extended period of time is a significant blow for the Angels, as the 23-year-old rookie had been enjoying virtually unprecedented success as a two-way player this season. He has gone 4-1 with a 3.10 ERA and 61 strikeouts over 49 1/3 innings as a right-handed pitcher and batted .289 with a .907 OPS and six home runs over 129 plate appearances as a left-handed hitter.
"Naturally, it's a disappointment, but you keep going," manager Mike Scioscia said. "Just like we're losing Andrelton [Simmons] for a little bit, you keep going. The schedule doesn't stop, and you can't take a timeout. We know that he was doing a lot of special things for us, but we've got to absorb it and move on."
Eppler said Ohtani would have "probably" been able to play through the UCL injury if he were exclusively a designated hitter, but the Angels didn't want to put him at further risk by having him continue to bat as he recovers.
"I think if he was only a designated hitter and that's all he was, probably," Eppler said. "But that's not his circumstance, and that's not how we want to utilize him as a player and realize the impact of the player. It was determined that any unique swing or variability could impose some small percentage increase in risk, so that's why we're going to give it the three weeks' time period right now to further assess and then make a determination at that time."
The Angels had often used a six-man rotation to accommodate Ohtani's once-a-week pitching schedule this season, but the need for an extra starter will be reduced now that Ohtani is on the DL. The Angels will likely call up rookie Jaime Barria on Tuesday in Seattle to join Richards, Heaney, Tyler Skaggs and Nick Tropeano in the rotation.
"There's going to be some stretches where we can definitely be five men," Scioscia said. "I think just like we did with Shohei in there, we went kind of week to week and saw how things are going. We'll continue to do that. We'll get Jaime Barria up here at some point and see where our rotation takes us."
Scioscia added that the Angels will rotate players at the DH spot, though Jose Pujols will likely figure prominently at that position. Pujols, Luis Valbuena and Jefry Marte could see time at first base, along with Jose Miguel Fernandez, who was called up from Triple-A Salt Lake on Friday and started at first against the Twins in his MLB debut.
Fernandez, a 30-year-old Cuban infielder who signed a Minor League deal with the Angels over the offseason, endured a long, winding road to the big leagues. He starred for Matanzas in the Serie Nacional for eight seasons, hitting .319 with an .822 OPS as a left-handed hitter, before attempting to defect from Cuba in 2014. Things did not go as planned, however, and he wasn't allowed to play baseball until he was permitted to leave the island legally in 2015.
Fernandez signed with the Dodgers for $200,000 in January 2017, but he was released at the end of the season and later latched on with the Angels. He was batting .345 with a .973 OPS, 10 home runs and 39 RBIs in 53 games with Triple-A Salt Lake this season. Fernandez said he cried when he was told that he was being promoted to the Majors on Thursday.
"It's a dream come true to be here in the big leagues," Fernandez said in Spanish. "I called my family in Cuba and told my father, all my family over there. I wanted to share the joy that I had with him."
The Angels also placed utility man Kaleb Cowart on the 10-day disabled list with a left ankle sprain and recalled infielder Nolan Fontana from Triple-A Salt Lake. Scioscia said Cowart hurt himself while stepping off the team bus on Thursday morning in Minneapolis. It's the second time in the last week that an Angel has been injured by stairs, as Simmons also suffered an ankle sprain after slipping on the dugout steps during pregame warmups Tuesday.
"I think you know you're under a rain cloud when guys are getting hurt not in baseball activities," Scioscia said. "He was coming off the bus yesterday morning. He just missed a step and twisted his ankle. Freak injury."
Maria Guardado covers the Angels for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.