On Wednesday afternoon, the Los Angeles Angels announced that team doctors had recommended Tommy John surgery for two-way star Shohei Ohtani, a procedure that would likely keep him off the mound until 2020.

Shohei Ohtani Tommy John
Shohei Ohtani will almost certainly undergo Tommy John surgery that will keep him off the pitching mound until 2020, though that hasn’t stopped him from hitting for now. (Image: AP)

Apparently, the damage to Ohtani’s ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) hasn’t impacted his swing.

Ohtani responded to the news that he would likely need surgery by going 4-for-4 with two home runs in a 9-3 victory for the Angels over the Texas Rangers on Wednesday night, showing that the 24-year-old Japanese star could be more than able to contribute next season even if he never throws a pitch.

Angels Still See Ohtani as Two-Way Player

While the ultimate decision on the surgery is up to Ohtani, it seems inevitable that he will choose to undergo the procedure. While Tommy John surgery was once approached with fear, many young pitchers now come back from the recovery process with stronger arms than they had before going under the knife.

According to Angels general manager Billy Eppler, the organization still sees Ohtani as a two-way player, even if that might have to change for at least one season.

“He trusted that we would use him in a two-way role, and we made that commitment,” Eppler told ESPN. “When you commit to somebody, it makes it hard to walk away from them, or it makes it hard to change course on them. Not only are you letting them down, but you’re living with the responsibility that comes with committing to somebody.”

The Angels signed Ohtani in the offseason knowing that he had a Grade 1 UCL sprain in his elbow. By midseason, the sprain had progressed to a more series Grade 2 tear, causing Ohtani to spend about a month on the disabled list after a June 6 start.

Unclear How Surgery Will Impact Availability as Hitter

By early July, the Japanese phenom was cleared to return as a hitter, but he did not take the mound again until this past weekend, when he was the starting pitcher for the Angels against the Houston Astros on Sunday. While he started strong, his velocity dropped quickly throughout his abbreviated start, and he would ultimately leave the game after 2.1 innings having allowed two runs.

According to a report by The Athletic, the Angels allowed Ohtani to pitch again this season to get an early indication of whether he would be healthy next year. By sending him out to the mound on Sunday, they learned immediately that there was an issue, rather than receiving that information next spring.

It’s unclear whether Ohtani would be available as a hitter in the 2019 season. After all, there’s no precedent for a two-way player having had Tommy John surgery, and even if Ohtani is able to hit now, it’s unclear what he could safely do next year after the procedure is performed. Typically, position players sit out six to eight months after Tommy John surgery, while pitchers miss more than a year while rehabbing.

“There are more questions out there right now than answers,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia told reporters. “We’ll take it one step at a time.”

In the meantime, Ohtani remains a leading candidate for the American League Rookie of the Year award. After Wednesday’s game, Ohtani is hitting .287 with 18 homers and 47 RBI; he has also compiled a 4-2 record with a 3.31 ERA in 51.2 innings as a pitcher.