Can Shohei Ohtani still hit with a torn UCL? Explaining how Angels star can stay in lineup with injury

It was the pop heard ’round the world.

Shohei Ohtani has been nothing but legendary in 2023. The Angels’ two-way superstar is a near lock to win his second MVP, as he loaded Los Angeles in his backpack and carried them all throughout the season.

And then, Wednesday happened.

Ohtani exited the first game of a doubleheader against the Reds with what the Angels called arm fatigue, but an MRI revealed that the superstar actually tore the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his right elbow. 

MORE: What a torn UCL means for Shohei Ohtani’s free agency

Ohtani’s diagnosis ends his season — and perhaps his next several — as a pitcher. But as is the case with Ohtani, there’s still another half of his game he can contribute, and he did just that in the second game of the twin set, when he stepped up to the plate five times despite the torn ligament. 

So, while Ohtani on the rubber may not be something fans will see in the near future, him at the dish is a definite possibility. Can he do it? Well, it’s complicated.

Can Shohei Ohtani still hit with a torn UCL?

As if there was any doubt, look no further than what Ohtani accomplished just hours later. The Angels DH went 1 for 5 with a run scored in the second game of the doubleheader vs. the Reds, and this came after he learned of his torn UCL (after Game 1).

A torn UCL doesn’t exactly mean that Ohtani will need Tommy John surgery. There are rehab processes that could help Ohtani avoid the procedure, and a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection could pave the way for Ohtani to avoid the surgery and finish out the season.

Continuing to hit seems to be in the cards for Ohtani, according to reports. While the team determines their next steps with Ohtani, the superstar has opted to continue to hit in the meantime.

Coincidentally, there’s a very recent comp for a player hitting with a torn UCL, and the recovery window he may face. Look no further than Phillies slugger Bryce Harper, who was diagnosed with a torn UCL in May 2022 and played through the season with the injury. He underwent Tommy John surgery in November and made a somewhat miraculous recovery, returning to the field early in May 2023.

From May 13 (Harper’s official diagnosis) to the end of the 2022 regular season, Harper slashed .292/.381/.494 with 11 home runs over 289 plate appearances. Harper was the team’s exclusive DH the remainder of the season, as Ohtani is with the Angels.

How long the Angels will let it ride depends squarely on the severity of Ohtani’s UCL injury. It is possible to hit with a torn UCL, as mentioned. It’s even possible to pitch with a torn UCL.

Masahiro Tanaka and Roy Halladay famously pitched through UCL tears, and with great effect. Ohtani won’t be on the mound any time soon, though: Angels GM Perry Minasian left no doubt that Ohtani wouldn’t take the hill the remainder of the season as a pitcher, saying as much on Wednesday night.

All this is to say: Fans will know more about Ohtani when there’s more to be known, and that should come over the days ahead.

MORE: Latest on Shohei Ohtani’s potential Tommy John surgery

Shohei Ohtani injury update

On Aug. 23, Ohtani left the first game of a doubleheader with what the Angels described as “arm fatigue.” An MRI quickly determined that Ohtani actually had a torn UCL.

As far as the next steps for Ohtani are concerned, the team should know more as the days unfold.

“As far as plans and details, I don’t have those yet,” Minasian said, per ESPN, following the doubleheader. “I’ve been in contact with his representation. Obviously he hit the second game.

“He’s played with this, in ’18, but with that being said we’ll take it day by day and see where it goes. Obviously disappointing news. I feel terrible for him. But it is what it is. If anybody can bounce back, it’s him.”

The Angels are currently seeking a second opinion on his elbow, which should paint a clearer picture forward over the remainder of the season.

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