Los Angeles Angels have decision to make on Shohei Ohtani's elbow injury

Jay Asser 7/09/2018
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Shohei Ohtani‘s abilities as a two-way player give the Los Angeles Angels a unique advantage, but now they’re presenting a conundrum for the team as they decide what to do about his elbow injury.

The Japanese sensation underwent an MRI on his right elbow on Thursday that revealed new damage to his ulnar collateral ligament, with Tommy John surgery recommended.

While the injury is keeping Ohtani off the mound, he’s continued to be used as a hitter and the results speak for themselves.

The day before his MRI, Ohtani went 4-for-4 with a walk, a stolen base, two home runs and three runs batted in (RBI). While the state of his elbow is an issue when it comes to pitching, it doesn’t appear to be hampering Ohtani at the plate.

Ohtani and the Angels now have a decision to make in regards to the timing of a potential surgery and how he’s used going forward.

If Ohtani has Tommy John surgery at any point from now until the end of the season, he will all but miss 2019 as a pitcher. By waiting until the season ends, Ohtani can continue to be used as a designated hitter, but with the Angels 19 games back in the American League West race and 15.5 games back for the Wild Card, getting surgery as soon as possible may afford Ohtani and the franchise some peace of mind.

The bigger question is what will happen to Ohtani following the surgery.

There’s an extensive list of star pitchers who’ve undergone Tommy John surgery and returned to their old self, so there should be little concern over how Ohtani will perform on the mound when he comes back.

And even though he wouldn’t be able to pitch next season, he could theoretically still hit and even play in the field because of how much less stress position players have on their throwing elbows.

For the Angels, if the choice they have to make is between Ohtani sitting out all of 2019 or still having his bat in the lineup, it would seem like a no-brainer.

But the Angels could use his layoff to convince Ohtani that his value would be greater as a full-time pitcher rather than a part-time player at both the plate and on the mound.

Being a two-way player is exactly what Ohtani signed up for, however, so the Angels would be going against his desires if they were to go that route. Realistically, it would take a willingness on Ohtani’s part to accept the change.

According to Angels general manager Billy Eppler though, the team “do still see [Ohtani] as a two-way player”.

“He made a commitment to us, and he trusted us,” Eppler said on Wednesday. “He trusted that we would use him in a two-way role, and we made that commitment. 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.”

There’s a reason two-way players don’t exist in modern day baseball, which is why Ohtani is such unicorn.

Keeping him as a two-way player would be in the best interest for the sport, but the Angels will ultimately have to do what’s best for them.

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Atlanta Braves rookie Ronald Acuna is going supernova to look like a superstar in the making

Jay Asser 15/08/2018
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Ronald Acuna has already arrived.

Considered by many as the top prospect in baseball coming into the season, the Atlanta Braves outfielder has hit the ground running despite only being 20.

Acuna’s rookie year has gone to another level over the last week, in which he’s torn the cover off the ball during a torrid run.

On Tuesday, he smacked a home run to lead off the game against the Miami Marlins to become the youngest player in MLB history to homer in five-straight games. He also became the youngest player to: homer eight times in an eight-game span, homer six times over five games, homer to lead off three-straight games and hit five career leadoff homers.

“I think this is the first time I’ve ever been hot, hot,” Acuna said through an interpreter. “It feels good, and you definitely show up with a lot of confidence.”

On August 7, Acuna possessed a .261 batting average, .321 on-base percentage and .478 slugging percentage. Now, his slash line sits at .288/.346/.576. – a major improvement in an incredibly short period of time.

Acuna’s hot streak has aligned with the decision by Braves manager Brian Snitker to move him to the leadoff spot in the lineup. Since making the move on July 20, Acuna has hit .358 with 12 home runs in 24 games.

Atlanta are 15-9 over that span, including four-straight wins to take a two-game lead over the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League East.

“You see him smiling. It’s contagious what he’s doing,” Braves center fielder Ender Inciarte said. “He’s the best leadoff hitter I’ve ever seen.

“He’s the best player I’ve ever seen. Hopefully, he’s going to continue to help us in the long run.”

The Braves haven’t made the playoffs in five years – a drought that feels like eons for a franchise that won the division crown 11 consecutive years from 1995-2005. During those days, the team was built on the foundations of Hall of Fame players like Chipper Jones, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz.

Acuna is now on the path to becoming Atlanta’s next legend and not just because of his bat. His defence and speed are also tantalising, while his fun-loving personality is exactly what baseball needs from a player that could be one of the faces of the league sooner than later.

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Boston Red Sox have all but put to rest the AL East race with the New York Yankees

Jay Asser 6/08/2018
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Andrew Benintendi capped off a Red Sox sweep with a 10th inning walk-off single.

What was once a thrilling neck-and-neck race in the American League East has now turned into a procession.

By completing a four-game sweep of the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox now hold a seemingly insurmountable 9.5-game cushion over their rivals – the largest division lead in baseball.

It was the first time Boston swept a four-game series against an opponent that entered the match-up at least 30 games above .500 since 1939, also against the Yankees.

New York were already in a precarious, but manageable, position coming into Fenway Park, and needed to, at worst, split the series to avoid losing more ground.

The chance to stay level was lost when the Red Sox secured a 4-1 win in the third game, but the nail in the coffin came in the final meeting.

Just when it appeared the Yankees would fire a parting shot on their way out of town, Boston erased a three-run deficit in the bottom of the ninth inning before Andrew Benintendi delivered a walk-off single in the 10th.

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For New York, the damage is hard to ignore.

In the divisional era (since 1969), only three teams have ever climbed out of a hole of 9.5 games or more in August or later – the 1993 Atlanta Braves, the 1995 Seattle Mariners and the 2006 Minnesota Twins.

The Yankees themselves came back from an 8.5-game deficit in 1978, when they stormed back on Boston and beat them in a one-game playoff for the AL East crown – history that can serve as a rallying cry for New York in the final stretch of the season.

Despite the nightmarish scenario the Yankees now find themselves in, manager Aaron Boone doesn’t believe all hope is lost.

“This is a test we are going through no question. We have some adversity being dinged up roster-wise, but we’ll come out a lot tougher,” Boone said.

“This is a weekend hopefully we’ll look back on that brought us together and grow as a club. We’ll move on.”

There’s still a slim chance of New York making the division race interesting again, mostly due to the fact they have the second-easiest remaining schedule of any team in the league, according to Baseball Prospectus. They also have six head-to-head clashes against the Red Sox.

But the harsh reality for the Yankees is that they’re trying to catch a runaway train in the Red Sox, who have been far and away the best team in baseball this season and are having the most successful regular-season campaign in the franchise’s storied history.

Boston simply refuse to lose, as their 79-34 record puts them on pace for 113 wins, which would be the fourth-best mark in MLB history.

While the Red Sox have sustained their strong play with seemingly no hiccups, New York are just 18-20 over their last 38 games and look shaky in every facet – from their starting pitching, to their bullpen, to their bats going quiet.

The Yankees’ offence has been hindered by injuries to Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, with the former dealing with a chip fracture in his wrist, and the latter on the 10-day disabled list with a groin issue.

At this point, New York have to set their sights on the Wild Card game and do everything they can to click at the end of the season, leading up to the elimination contest.

Having their entire season come down to one game is a tough pill to swallow for a team that has the third-best record in baseball, but the Yankees have the misfortune of going against an absolute juggernaut in their division this year.

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