Ohtani doubles, walks 3 times in game after UCL tear

August 26th, 2023

NEW YORK -- Despite the crushing news of Shohei Ohtani's elbow injury, there’s still a silver lining for the Angels, and for baseball fans.

Ohtani, who will not pitch again this season after being diagnosed with a tear in his right ulnar collateral ligament, will continue to serve as the club’s designated hitter until he gets a second opinion on his torn UCL. He went 1-for-2 with a double and three walks (one intentional) as the DH to help the Angels to a 3-1 win over the Mets in the series opener on Friday.

“He’s going to play,” general manager Perry Minasian said before the game. “As far as the second opinion, we are working on that. As we sit here today, he’s going to play until he tells us he’s not. Obviously, he’s having a special year and is a big part of this club. We’re excited to still have him in the lineup.”

Facing fellow Japan native Kodai Senga on Japanese Heritage Night at Citi Field, Ohtani drew a walk in the first, ripped a 115.4-mph double on a cutter in the third and walked again in the fifth. Ohtani drew applause, even from Mets fans, every time he came to the plate, and his rocket double in the third drew a notable buzz from the crowd. It helped key a two-run rally for the Angels.

“Senga’s split is one of the best I’ve seen, and he threw some that were unhittable, and the ball that Shohei hit, I don’t think was in the strike zone,” Angels manager Phil Nevin said. “And he drew the walk later. Just great at-bats.”

Senga said he was excited for the opportunity to face Ohtani for the first time in the Majors and said he wishes nothing but the best for him going forward.

“I think he’s a very special player,” Senga said through an interpreter. “That in itself makes everything special. I had faced him a couple times in Japan, and I was excited to face him again here.”

The two-way star skipped a start in Texas with arm fatigue before leaving his Wednesday afternoon start against the Reds after just 1 1/3 innings. Still, he hit his MLB-leading 44th homer and, despite being told his diagnosis between games, Ohtani asked to remain in the lineup as the DH in Game 2’s 7-3 loss and went 1-for-5 with a hustle double in the fifth.

Ohtani, who is still the heavy favorite to win AL MVP Award despite the injury, can’t further injure his UCL by hitting, so he opted to continue to hit until he finds out what’s next for his elbow.

Minasian, who made the announcement Wednesday night, said that it was unclear whether the 29-year-old would require his second Tommy John surgery, having already undergone the procedure following his rookie season in October 2018.

“He has a good idea of how this goes,” Minasian said. “But we’re not looking that far. We’re worried about today. He loves playing. That’s what he does. The fact that there’s an opportunity to still play games and help us try to win, says a lot about him.”

Despite the unique nature of the situation, there is a road map available to the Angels. Ohtani, who is set to be a free agent after the season, similarly chose to delay surgery in 2018 and thrived at the plate after being pulled from the rotation, posting a 1.003 OPS with seven home runs over his last 24 games.

But if Ohtani needs Tommy John surgery, he could opt to have it right away to speed up the timeline on his return. He had Tommy John surgery on Oct. 1, 2018, and missed the 2019 season as a pitcher and also didn’t return as designated hitter until May 7, missing the club’s first 34 games of the season.

If Ohtani has the operation in early September, he could be ready to hit by Opening Day in 2024. Either way, he wouldn’t be able to pitch in ‘24 if he needs the surgery. But if he needs Tommy John again, it will be trickier, as it’s more difficult to rehab and return to form after a second surgery than after the first.

But it means a lot to his teammates that he’s still playing despite the diagnosis and that he’s staying positive throughout it all.

“It’s awesome,” said lefty Patrick Sandoval, who allowed one run over six innings to get the win. “The guy loves the game. He loves us. It’s obvious. He’s out there playing despite the news he got. What he’s doing, it’s pretty special.”