Baseball fans clamoring for the return of two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani may get their wish in the coming weeks, at least in a limited capacity.
Ohtani, who received stem-cell and platelet-rich plasma injections to treat a Grade 2 sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow on June 7, will be re-evaluated on Thursday, at which point the Angels hope he'll be cleared to at least hit.
"He'll be evaluated Thursday, and hopefully we'll get some good news," manager Mike Scioscia said on Wednesday. "I do think he'll swing the bat before he's ready to pitch, but that's just my feeling. We'll wait for our medical staff to give us direction and determine what the next step is."
General manager Billy Eppler made an appearance on MLB Network Radio on Wednesday and told MLB.com's Jim Duquette that Ohtani would already have been cleared to play as a designated hitter if Los Angeles wasn't also aiming to get him back on the mound in 2018.
"[Our doctors] have said from the outset that if he was solely a DH, he would have been cleared right away," Eppler told Duquette. "But because you're wanting that ligament to heal because you're wanting that impact on the mound, you have to wait and get out of the -- I don't want to coin it the 'danger zone' -- but you want to get into a point where you feel that area has plenty of time to scar and heal. The three-week [PRP and rest] prescription is to buy you that time.
"I understand that [our doctor] would clear him to be able to hit if he sees the ligament is in good shape and has in fact scarred down."
Ohtani last played on June 4 and was placed on the disabled list days later after an MRI revealed that the ulnar collateral ligament in his right pitching elbow had progressed from a Grade 1 strain -- as was reported over the offseason -- to a more serious Grade 2 level. The Angels are hoping the 23-year-old can ultimately avoid Tommy John surgery and eventually continue to pitch -- as a handful of others, including countryman Masahiro Tanaka, have done -- though that path is a relative rarity for pitchers with Grade 2 UCL strains. The majority ultimately must undergo Tommy John surgery to continue pitching.
Now mired in fourth place in the American League West despite an historic season from star center fielder Mike Trout, the Angels are in a precarious position in terms of how to move forward with Ohtani. The Japanese import has certainly demonstrated skill at the plate, batting .289 with a .907 OPS and several tape-measure home runs in limited playing time. But Ohtani's additional skill as a starter featuring triple-digit velocity and an exceptional split-fingered fastball makes him a transcendent talent with two-way versatility that has not been seen since Babe Ruth played both ways a century ago.
The right-hander won four of his first five decisions before his DL stint while striking out 61 batters in 49 1/3 innings. The Angels must decide if letting Ohtani pitch again is worth the considerable risk of further injury.
Should Ohtani require Tommy John surgery and miss at least a season of action, the Angels could be in a more unfavorable bargaining position in terms of retaining Trout, who is signed through the 2020 campaign. Los Angeles has made the postseason just once during Trout's historic first seven-plus seasons in the Majors, losing to the Royals in a three-game sweep in the '14 American League Division Series.