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Ohtani the Pitcher and Deep Foreboding

September 1st, 2018 · 1 Comment · Angels, Baseball

Media outlets are suggesting Los Angeles Angels fans are excited that Japanese rookie Shohei Ohtani will return to the pitcher’s mound tomorrow night.

I am filled with foreboding.

Ohtani, the most prominent pitcher-hitter since Babe Ruth, has not pitched since June 6, when he exited a game with elbow stiffness — later described as a “Grade 2 sprain” of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right (pitching) elbow.

Ohtani chose not to have surgery on the damaged ligament, opting for rehabilitation instead — a process that returns him to the mound a year (or more) earlier than surgery.

The reality?

Surgery is far more likely to return a pitcher to his previous level of efficiency.

To date, attempts to rehab a UCL have usually failed, resulting in the pitcher getting the surgery after all — and putting up with the 12-to-18 month recovery period they had hoped to avoid.

The rehab tends to include injections of stem cells and “platelet-rich” plasma. Sometimes, it works, and pitchers get back to the mound. For a time, anyway.

Ohtani and the Angels need look no further than teammate Garrett Richards for what sort of odds Ohtani faces in trying to pitch without surgery.

In 2016, Richards opted for rehab to treat his sprained elbow. He got six starts in 2017, and this season he started 16 games and threw 76.1 innings — and usually looked sharp. Right up till when his elbow fell apart on July 10.

This time, Richards chose the ligament-replacement surgery. He may not be seen again in a Major League game until the 2020 season.

The fear here is that Ohtani’s pitching arm also will fail him, even as the club attempts to nurse him along, and he will need the surgery — which could mean, as in the case of Richards, a return in 2020.

The difference here is that Ohtani is a batter of no small talent, and the elbow surgery presumably would put his hitting on hold, too.

While rehabbing his elbow, Ohtani, 24, has been playing semi-regularly as his team’s designated hitter for the past two months, and doing it rather well.

In August, he batted .305 with 14 runs, 18 RBI and six home runs in just 61 at-bats. Project even that circumscribed production over a sixth-month season, and he would be in the neighborhood of 84 runs, 108 RBI and 36 homers. He would be a star hitter, that is.

We grasp that Ohtani considers his career to be traveling a dual path — both hitting and pitching, and to that end he will resume the throwing part of it in a nationally televised game at Houston tomorrow night.

Presumably, he will use his favorite and most-effective pitch, the split-finger fastball, which is known to place extra strain on the UCL.

What Ohtani fans fear is a brave attempt to come back without surgery, an attempt that will lead to a wrecked arm and the surgery after all. They can visualize Ohtani walking off the mound in the middle of an at-bat, looking grim.

For three months to open the season, Ohtani showed he could do both — hit and pitch at the MLB level. He showed it could be done. Not just for a day or a week but for three months.

For the past two months, he has been a hitter only, and one who could earn a place in most any lineup. Thus, he has an option to prolonging his career, unlike Garrett Richards.

Those of us who think of Ohtani’s right elbow as a ticking time bomb … would be far happier seeing what kind of hitter he could be, doing it full time. Leave further tests of his pitching prowess in the “what might have been” file.




1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Marvin M. Reiter // Sep 5, 2018 at 2:34 PM

    They heard you!

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