Last Friday, new broke that the Angels were the team that landed Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani. The two-way star wants to keep hitting, but most teams were after him for his pitching, which includes a 102-mph fastball in his arsenal. Interestingly, Ohtani’s medicals included news that he had a platelet-rich plasma injection in his right (pitching) elbow back in October.
MLB circulated Ohtani’s medical history. Sources from two of the teams say the report included a notation that Ohtani underwent a platelet-rich plasma injection on his right elbow in October.
Having PRP injection sometimes helps pitchers avoid Tommy John surgery (Masahiro Tanaka comes to mind), but could also be used just to deal with inflammation. In Ohtani’s case, he had a first-degree sprain in his ulnar collateral ligament, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports.
While a first-degree sprain is the least severe of UCL injuries, further damage could lead to Tommy John surgery, a reconstructive procedure that sidelines pitchers for a year. The shot of PRP, a biologic of centrifuge-spun blood that is used to promote healing, was administered Oct. 20, according to the report, which was distributed to teams after Ohtani entered Major League Baseball’s posting system. Ohtani, the report said, “will be most likely available to start his throwing program approximately a month from the PRP.” Sports Illustrated first reported that Ohtani had received the PRP shot.
“Although partial damage of UCL in deep layer of his right UCL exists,” the report said, ” … he is able to continue full baseball participation with sufficient elbow care program.”
In addition, a “small free body” floats in Ohtani’s elbow near his UCL, according to the report.
A sprain is by definition a tear, though the extent of the tear is what determines whether Tommy John surgery is necessary. Many pitchers, including Tanaka, pitch with a partial tear and have no problems. Ervin Santana has pitched for years with a partial tear, for example. Adam Wainwright pitched five years with one before needing elbow reconstruction.
The PRP treatment combined with other preventative measures could allow Ohtani to pitch with no ill-effects going forward. Will he be able to hit and pitch with the first-degree tear? I’m not sure anyone knows the answer to that question. It’s been a long time since baseball had a true two-way player.
Ohtani only made five starts last season due to thigh and ankle injuries. He was 3-2 with a 3.20 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 25 1/3 innings. In 2016, he was 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA and 174 strikeouts in 140 innings.