After undergoing an MRI this morning, Shohei Ohtani has been cleared to begin a hitting program, the Angels announced today. He’ll be further evaluated in another three weeks, but tests today showed improvements in his ulnar collateral ligament (Twitter links via Joel Sherman of the New York Post). The Angels aren’t making a definitive call on whether he’ll be able to pitch again this season until that subsequent followup exam.
While Ohtani certainly isn’t entirely out of the woods just yet, it’s obviously an encouraging update for the Angels that the platelet-rich plasma and stem cell injections he received earlier this month have resulted in some meaningful improvement. Eppler indicated yesterday that if Ohtani were strictly a designated hitter, he’d likely have been cleared right away. That, coupled with today’s clearance, makes it seem likely that Ohtani will, at the very least, return to the Angels’ lineup at some point this summer — if not the rotation.
Ohtani was widely expected to be a superior pitcher than hitter, and many reports at the time of his signing cited scouts who remained skeptical of his ability to hit Major League pitching. While he’s only had 129 plate appearances to date, he’s looked every bit the part of someone talented enough to excel in both areas. Thus far in the Majors, Ohtani has raked at a .289/.372/.535 pace, clubbing six homers, eight doubles and a triple.
The Halos won’t send Ohtani on a traditional minor league rehab assignment, according to Eppler (via Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register, on Twitter). Instead, he’ll get his at-bats in via a series of simulated games and live BP sessions. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweets that Ohtani could begin facing live pitching as soon as next week.
As with any UCL injury, speculation regarding potential surgery for Ohtani will abound. However, Eppler made sure to emphasize today that medical experts have not yet made that recommendation for Ohtani (Twitter link via MLB.com’s Maria Guardado). Said Eppler: “No doctor has told me that Shohei needs surgical intervention at this time.”