The Angels announced Thursday that Shohei Ohtani has been medically cleared to begin a throwing progression after going through a scheduled evaluation with Dr. Steve Yoon at the Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles.
Ohtani, 24, has not thrown a Major League pitch since June 6, when an MRI revealed a Grade 2 sprain in the ulnar collateral ligament of his pitching elbow. The right-hander received both a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) and stem cell injection at the time, and he spent nearly a month on the disabled list before returning in early July as the Angels' designated hitter.
The budding star has hit .250 and slugged .458 since his return, knocking a home run and a pair of doubles over 28 plate appearances. Ohtani is hitting .283 with an .887 OPS over the entirety of his rookie season.
But the intrigue surrounding Ohtani has centered on his singular ability as a two-way player, and Thursday's announcement lends hope to fans clamoring for his return to a big league mound in 2018. Though a Grade 2 sprain has often directly led to season-ending Tommy John surgery for many pitchers, a select few -- including Ohtani's countryman Masahiro Tanaka -- have been able to pitch regularly with the injury without undergoing surgery.
Ohtani has often dazzled when he has been healthy enough to pitch, pairing a fastball that routinely touches triple digits with a hard slider and a nearly unhittable splitter. The phenom is 4-1 with a 3.10 ERA on the mound, striking out 61 batters over 49 1/3 innings and holding opponents to a .202 batting average.
Ohtani was an early front-runner for the American League's Rookie of the Year Award as he attempted to become the first player since Babe Ruth to successfully pitch and hit on a regular basis. His club begins the second half a game over .500 at 49-48 and nine games back of the division-rival Mariners for the AL's second Wild Card spot.