Tommy John surgery a possibility for injured Ohtani

Shohei Othtani in the dugout during a game.Shohei Ohtani’s stellar rookie campaign might already be over. The Los Angeles Angels placed Ohtani on the disabled list on Friday with a sprained elbow ligament in his throwing arm, and they are unsure whether the injury will require season-ending Tommy John surgery. Ohtani has been a revelation on the mound and at the plate, and losing him would deal a big blow to Los Angeles’ postseason contention.

The Angels plan on re-evaluating Ohtani’s elbow in July, when they will hope to see enough positive progress to avoid surgery. Tommy John surgery is a common procedure for pitchers, and the only downside seems to be the lengthy recovery period, which can exceed a year. Whether Ohtani has the surgery now or in a few weeks makes no difference to his return date, which would fall somewhere around spring training 2020.

If Los Angeles can avoid surgery with Ohtani, his return to the mound would likely happen in August on September, but he would seemingly be able to contribute at the plate in the meantime. Not only has Ohtani been the Angels’ best pitcher, but he is also batting .289 with 6 home runs and 20 RBI in his appearances as designated hitter, making his absence a double-blow to the Los Angeles lineup. The Angels have lost two straight in a fierce battle for position in the competitive American League West, and they can’t afford to lose much more ground to the Seattle Mariners or the Houston Astros with the Oakland A’s also close behind.

Los Angeles still has one of baseball’s best players in Mike Trout at the heart of a formidable batting order, as well as a solid rotation headlined by Tyler Skaggs. But without Ohtani’s talents underpinning both, the Angels appear much more vulnerable to slumps that can kill a team’s playoff hopes. Even though having Tommy John surgery would likely benefit Ohtani over the course of his career, the recovery period creates a conundrum for Los Angeles, which can ill afford another lost season (or two) despite one of the highest payrolls in the league.