Despite key free agents switching teams this past off-season, it was an incoming overseas player who drew the most attention from major league teams – Shohei Ohtani. Dubbed ‘Japan’s Babe Ruth‘ by several news outlets for his ability to both pitch and hit, Ohtani came across the Atlantic and entertained meetings with seven teams in Los Angeles — including the New York Yankees and hometown Los Angeles Dodgers. Despite garnering interest from those historic franchises, he chose a different path. A path that surprised many — including his new General Manager Billy Eppler – by choosing the Los Angeles Angels.
Update: Could Shohei Ohtani Pitch This Season?
The Japan-native has had a rollercoaster ride of a year so far that started early in spring training. Ohtani made two starts and gave up eight earned runs over 2.2 innings as he finished the spring with an ERA of 27.00, and wasn’t any better at the plate, batting just .125. He started the year on a low, but when the regular season began, his rollercoaster rocketed up.
The rookie hit home runs in three of his first four games and added seven RBI, but his shining moment came in his first home start on the mound. Ohtani was dominant, brilliant, and carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning as he held the Oakland Athletics to one hit with 12 strikeouts over seven shutout innings. The righty consistently succeeded on both sides of the ball, so much so that he was named the AL Rookie of the Month for April, and lived up to the expectations placed on him – at least as much as someone can when they’re compared to one of the greatest of all time.
But just as they go up, all rollercoasters must go down, and on June 6 Ohtani’s season appeared to have fallen to the ground as he was placed on the disabled list with a Grade 2 ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) sprain in his right (throwing) elbow. The injury was catastrophic for the Angels. It was initially thought Ohtani would need Tommy John surgery, and there were even reports of him not being able to pitch until 2020.
Despite those initial reports, the metaphorical rollercoaster started another hill upward, as Ohtani was cleared to hit and returned to the Angels lineup on July 3 against the Seattle Mariners. He went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts, but the game was about more than just his performance. Angels fans were just happy to see him on the field this season.
Since that first game, Ohtani has struggled to be as good as he was before the injury. But he’s still been a welcome addition to an Angels’ lineup that has been lackluster on offense all season. In the 29 games he’s appeared in post-injury, the rookie has slashed .250/.320/.842 with six home runs, 12 RBI, and four stolen bases.
Halo’s fans got another piece of good news on August 7 when the team announced that Ohtani would throw a bullpen on August 11.
Ohtani threw a total of 23 pitches during the light bullpen, the first time he’s thrown off a mound since June 6. The righty threw mostly fastballs, but also reportedly worked in curveballs and sliders.
“I was throwing at about 70 percent full strength, making sure everything was okay overall,” he told The Japan Times. “I wanted to see about my fastballs first, and when that went well I wanted to throw some breaking pitches.”
Despite the fact that his catcher never squatted, it was a positive sign for the Angels and Ohtani that he didn’t have any issues. “First of all, I’ve finished today, the first day, in good shape,” Ohtani said. “The (rehabilitation) plan will be adjusted. From tomorrow, we’ll either move forward or take a step back. We’ll see how I’m responding each and every day.”
What’s next for Ohtani
Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic Los Angeles has reported that Ohtani’s next bullpen session will be on August 13, including the detail that the catcher will be squatting.
Both of these things are significant. The first detail is important because of the timing — it speaks volumes about the Halo’s mindset that they are going to allow him to throw with just a day rest. The information that the catcher will be squatting is also important because it means that the bullpen will likely feature more intensity than the first.
Put all this together and Ohtani pitching this season – a miracle it may have seemed two months ago – could just be possible.
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