Shohei Ohtani is throwing baseballs again, and the Los Angeles Angels hope he’ll eventually feel good enough to return to the mound this season.
The Angels’ two-way rookie sensation played catch from about 60 feet for the second straight day Friday, with a dozen clicking cameras documenting his every move in the Angel Stadium outfield.
Ohtani was cleared by doctors Thursday to begin a throwing progression after he took six weeks off to rest the sprained ligament in his pitching elbow. He had a stem cell platelet-rich plasma injection one day after his most recent pitching appearance on June 6, and the sprain shows signs of healing.
The Angels are eager to find out how well the treatment worked, and they’re still hopeful that Ohtani can avoid Tommy John surgery. But they won’t rush their prized newcomer back onto the mound — particularly while he’s still contributing to the club’s increasingly daunting playoff push as a designated hitter.
“It’s very tough to foresee the future, but we do anticipate him pitching for us this year if everything in his rehab goes as planned,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.
Ohtani also was in the Angels’ lineup and batting fifth Friday night as Los Angeles returned from the All-Star break to face Houston. Ohtani hasn’t stopped hitting while he waits to determine whether he’ll pitch again this season.
Ohtani missed 22 games on the Angels’ disabled list before he returned as a hitter in early July. He wants to keep hitting while his pitching elbow recovers, and the Angels are willing to work with him as usual.
“He’s a unique player with unique demands on him physically that go above and beyond the regular pitcher, or above and beyond the regular hitter,” Angels general manager Billy Eppler said. “It’s just important to be mindful that he’s going to take these steps in his throwing progression, and step by step, we’ll reassess daily. ... If he’s feeling good, his distances will be increased. His time in the throwing progression will be increased. But I can’t answer the question as to when he would potentially be back on the mound.”
Ohtani is 4-1 with a 3.10 ERA and 61 strikeouts in his first nine starts for the Angels, showing fearsome pitching ability in his first season stateside from Japan.
Eppler said the doctors monitoring Ohtani haven’t mentioned the possibility of Tommy John surgery. Ohtani has a Grade 2 sprain of his elbow ligament, which doesn’t always require elbow ligament replacement surgery.
But the Angels also tried PRP injections, stem cell treatment and rest to heal the elbow ligament of former ace Garrett Richards, who decided last week to have Tommy John surgery anyway. He won’t pitch again until 2020, limiting him to 28 starts in four seasons of what should have been his prime.
The Angels can afford to be patient with Ohtani, who is bound to the club for the next five seasons.
The Angels (49-48) were 4 1/2 games out of first place in the AL West when Ohtani stopped pitching. They’ve fallen 14 games off the Astros’ pace as they return from the All-Star break, with streaking Seattle also nine games ahead of them in the AL wild card race.
Los Angeles’ chances for its first playoff victory since 2009 are looking increasingly bleak after yet another season of bewildering injuries, particularly for its pitching staff.
Richards, Keynan Middleton and JC Ramirez have all been lost for the season to Tommy John surgery, and at least nine potential starting pitchers have spent time on the disabled list.