Shohei Ohtani’s Arm Kerploded And The Angels Are In Hell
10:43 AM EDT on August 24, 2023
The Los Angeles Angels are so screwed. They went all in at the trade deadline, acquiring pitching and hitting reinforcements for a second-half charge at the playoffs. They added a high-end starter and a flamethrower reliever, and they added a slugging first baseman and a productive veteran outfielder. They'd opened the season's second half with an encouraging stretch of baseball against a mixed bag of opponents, and the feeling was that these additions would give them their last best chance to convince Shohei Ohtani, the most valuable player in baseball history, to stick around after this season. The goal was playoffs or bust.
Today, just about three weeks from the trade deadline, the Angels are, in every sense of the word, busted. The trades did not work out. C.J. Cron and Randal Grichuk, who the Angels acquired from the Rockies, haven't hit for shit; Lucas Giolito, who the Angels picked up from the White Sox in exchange for the final worth-a-damn prospect in their farm system, has allowed a .901 opponent OPS in five starts, four of which have been losses. Since the Aug. 1 trade deadline, the Angels have lost 16 of 21 games to fall 10.5 games back of the AL wild card; they are now roughly equidistant by win percentage from the Seattle Mariners, who currently own the final playoff spot, and the dreaded Chicago White Sox, who may or may not be eating one another as I type this.
Thursday afternoon, in the first game of a doubleheader against the Cincinnati Reds, everything finally just went kerblooey all over the place. Ohtani, who'd been showing signs of wear over his last few pitching appearances and who has dealt with annoying, nagging injuries all summer, stepped off the mound with a grimace in the second inning after throwing 26 pitches. When Angels manager Phil Nevin came out to the mound to check on his superstar, Ohtani told him his arm "just didn't feel right," and Nevin promptly yanked him from the game. The word initially was arm fatigue, which incidentally was the explanation used when the Angels scratched Ohtani from his scheduled start against the Rangers on Aug. 16. Two weeks ago Nevin called this "regular arm fatigue" and said he'd been assured by Ohtani that "there’s no pain, there’s no injury," and that Ohtani would be ready for his next start. His next start was Wednesday night, and right from the outset it was clear something wasn't right: Ohtani's fastball, which Statcast says averages 97 mph on the year, was coming in about four miles per hour slower than usual.
Nevin was still holding to the desperate hope of regular wear after the game, right until word came down that there is, in fact, some tear in there, too. And not just any tear: the shittiest possible injury a pitcher can suffer, a tear to the dreaded ulnar collateral ligament. Shohei Ohtani, baseball's two-way international phenom and the best player in the world, possibly ever, has suffered the second UCL tear of his six-year MLB career. If he continues to play at all, he will for sure not pitch again in 2023, and he may require his second Tommy John surgery. Way back in 2018, when Ohtani suffered his first UCL tear, he delayed Tommy John surgery and opted for platelet-rich plasma and stem-cell therapy after being shut down as a pitcher. This course of treatment failed to heal the ligament, and Ohtani went under the knife on Oct. 1, one day after the final game of the Angels' season. Ohtani did not pitch at all in 2019 and only threw 1.2 innings during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
What this injury will mean for the remainder of the 2023 season is yet to be determined. Ohtani could, theoretically, continue to play every day as the team's designated hitter. And, indeed, Ohtani crushed his 44th home run of the season in that same game, a 442-foot bomb to right center.
Ohtani played in the second game of the doubleheader and hit a screaming 104-mph liner to left-center for a hard-luck out in the second inning, then a double to right field in the fifth. He can for sure still sock the bejeezus out of a baseball. But with the Angels free-falling down the standings, and with the teams atop the wild-card chase looking stronger by the day, it's hard to see much of a big-picture benefit to keeping Ohtani in the lineup if doing so delays a surgery that might be inevitable or adds any risk at all of further injury. As Bryce Harper recently proved with his incredible six-month turnaround, Tommy John surgery doesn't have to cost a hitter anything even close to a full season. If Ohtani opted for surgery today and had a similarly successful recovery, he could in theory be ready to participate as a hitter at spring training.
Of course, no one yet knows which team's spring training. Ohtani will be a free agent after the conclusion of this season. The Angels will have participated in the playoffs not one single time during his six seasons wearing the halo. If the Angels were hoping to use the back half of this season to prove to Ohtani that they are not, in fact, deeply cursed—cursed not in a smudge-the-locker-room-with-white-sage way but in a drop-The-Big-One-on-the-stadium-so-all-that-remains-is-a-wasteland-of-smooth-green-radioactive-glass way—they have instead proved the opposite. There have been many other dark moments in Angels history, but this is as low a condition as a franchise can reach without actual existential consequences. They killed their own baseball God.
The scope of this particular misfortune makes this other update into an afterthought, but we cannot discuss the star-crossed, utterly woebegone Angels without mentioning that the team got bad injury news Wednesday about fellow superstar Mike Trout. Trout, who was activated off the injured list Tuesday after missing seven weeks due to a broken wrist, was attempting to play through pain and discomfort in order to help the team's desperate push for the postseason. Trout missed both legs of the doubleheader, and on Wednesday night Angels general manager Perry Minasian announced that Trout would be placed back on the injured list for a minimum of 10 days. There is a very real possibility that the Angels will limp to the conclusion of this season with both Ohtani and Trout on the shelf.
It almost goes without saying that the Angels were swept in the doubleheader. I do not want to think about these poor suffering bozos again for a long time, possibly ever.