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Ohtani done pitching in ’23 due to elbow tear

Shohei Ohtani has a tear in the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and will not pitch again this season, Los Angeles Angels general manager Perry Minasian said Wednesday night in Anaheim, California, a shocking twist in the lead-up to arguably the most highly anticipated free agency in baseball history.

Ohtani exited his start in Game 1 of a doubleheader against the Cincinnati Reds earlier Wednesday after recording just four outs and throwing only 26 pitches. A subsequent MRI revealed the tear, though Minasian said he did not know the severity of it. Ohtani nonetheless insisted on serving as the designated hitter in Game 2, ultimately going 1-for-5 in the Angels’ 7-3 loss, and will seek secondary opinions to determine his next step.

One option, of course, is Tommy John surgery, a procedure he already underwent on his right elbow in October 2018 and one that would keep him off the mound for the entirety of the 2024 season — a development that would significantly affect a free agent sweepstakes that many expected to yield a $500-plus million contract.

“As far as plans and details, I don’t have those yet,” Minasian said at Angel Stadium. “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 recently opted not to trade Ohtani, the two-way sensation they hoped to sign to a lucrative extension, and have gone 5-16 since the Aug. 1 trade deadline, on pace for a franchise-record eighth consecutive losing season. They currently are riding a four-game losing streak. And their other superstar, Mike Trout, who returned from a seven-week absence because of a hamate fracture earlier this week, will return to the injured list because his attempts to swing in Tuesday’s game “didn’t go well,” Minasian said.

The Angels can at least hold out hope that Trout will return this season.

Ohtani — at least the pitcher — will not.

Ohtani previously battled a cracked nail and a blister on his right middle finger. Often in recent weeks, he also has navigated through cramping issues. And he asked to skip his previous start because of what Angels manager Phil Nevin described as “arm fatigue.” It’s the same term the Angels initially used to describe the reason for Ohtani’s early exit Wednesday, his first start in 14 days. His fastball was down to an average of 93.1 mph, nearly four ticks slower than his season average.

Minasian said the Angels were not aware of any issues before Wednesday.

“He never complained about anything,” Minasian added about Ohtani, who was not made available to reporters. “He had cramps, he was dehydrated, but today is the day. He came out of the game and said, ‘Hey, I’ve got pain in the elbow area.’ It’s the first day we’ve heard of any type of pain.”

Ohtani, 29, was diagnosed with a Grade 2 sprain of his UCL in June of his rookie season in 2018 and hoped to combat the need for Tommy John surgery with platelet-rich plasma and stem-cell therapy. He remained in the lineup throughout that process, then was told he needed Tommy John surgery on Sept. 5 — and he hit two home runs later that night. Ohtani put off the procedure until the early part of the offseason, spent all of 2019 rehabbing as a pitcher — while serving as a full-time DH — and struggled in both aspects during the COVID-19-shortened season in 2020.

His prowess as a two-way phenomenon began in 2021, a year that saw him win the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award unanimously. He would have won the hardware again in 2022 if not for Aaron Judge’s record-setting home run campaign. And in 2023, he looks like the easy favorite again — even with the Angels once again out of the playoff picture, and even with another UCL tear ruling him out as a pitcher for the final six weeks.

Ohtani, who hit his major league-leading 44th home run moments before exiting his start, is slashing .304/.405/.664 this season but also boasts a 3.14 ERA with 167 strikeouts in 132 innings. His 8.7 FanGraphs wins above replacement easily leads the majors.

The Angels, who are off Thursday, still don’t know whether Ohtani will hit the rest of this season.

“We’re going to go day to day and just see how it goes, see how he feels,” Minasian said. “I think as we get more information, as far as recovery time and all those types of things, we’ll have more information down the road.”

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