Angels designated hitter and pitcher Shohei Ohtani will undergo season-ending surgery Friday to repair a congenital issue in his left kneecap that was affecting his throwing. Ohtani, who did not pitch this season as he recovered from Tommy John surgery, will be sidelined for several weeks from baseball activities while the Angels play the final 15 games of a disappointing season.
Despite the delay, Ohtani should be able to complete his rehabilitation from the procedure he had last October by the end of this year, general manager Billy Eppler said in a conference call on Thursday. That timeline will allow Ohtani to return to the Angels as a fully-fledged two-way player by spring training.
Ohtani played in 106 games this season, his second with the Angels, despite learning he had a bipartite patella in his left knee after an MRI in February. Eppler said the rare condition, which occurs when the bones in the kneecap do not fuse after birth, did not typically bother Ohtani. They managed it by decreasing the loads on his lower-body exercises in the weight room but changed little else.
The Angels would have allowed Ohtani to play until the end of the season but Ohtani became apprehensive. The discomfort in his knee had mounted as his bullpen sessions intensified in August. He worried that he would try to compensate for the discomfort and cause another arm problem.
Ohtani stopped throwing off the mound after a bullpen session Sept. 1.
“We felt that it was better to get it done now because it was causing some reluctance, or apprehension, in his mound progressions and we wanted to increase intensity,” Eppler said. “If we had increased intensity and he compromised something in his delivery, that could [have led] to unforeseen issues.”
Ohtani batted .286 with 18 home runs and 62 runs batted in. He endured a few slumps this season, including a severe power outage that limited him to four homers after the All-Star break, and battled with his swing mechanics.
But the Angels determined the 25-year-old’s offense was not impacted by the knee issue. His sprint speed on the basepaths and the force with which he hit baseballs remained in line with what he produced last year when he won the AL rookie of the year award after making waves as the first bona fide two-way player since Babe Ruth.
Pitching was the only part of Ohtani’s game affected by the kneecap.
The Angels do not expect the problem to linger beyond this season. He will resume throwing in early October. He will then return to the mound within eight to 12 weeks of the knee procedure, complete his Tommy John rehab and take a break before reporting to Tempe, Ariz., to prepare for the 2020 season as both a hitter and pitcher.
Getting Ohtani back in full health should be a boon for a team whose pitching staff this year was ravaged by injuries, feeble performances and the death of Tyler Skaggs. Ohtani was the Angels’ most effective pitcher last season before first hurting his elbow in June 2018. He ended his captivating campaign with a 3.31 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 10 starts.