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Angels star Shohei Ohtani won’t pitch for rest of season because of a torn elbow ligament

Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani throws to the plate during the second inning in the first baseball game of a doubleheader Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Shohei Ohtani won’t pitch for the rest of the season because of a torn ligament in his right elbow, Los Angeles Angels general manager Perry Minasian said Wednesday night.

The Angels don’t yet know whether the major league homers leader and 10-game winner will need surgery to repair his ulnar collateral ligament for the second time. Ohtani had his first Tommy John surgery in late 2018, following his AL Rookie of the Year season.

“A tough day for him,” Minasian said. “Tough day for all of us.”

The two-way superstar left the mound abruptly in the second inning of his start against Cincinnati after throwing 26 pitches in the opener of a doubleheader. Ohtani, who hit his 44th homer in the first inning, then insisted on playing in the nightcap even after the tear was discovered while running tests between games.

The injury will have a massive effect on baseball’s free agent market this winter with Ohtani headed to free agency. The uniquely valuable AL MVP front-runner was expected to receive the most lucrative contract offers in baseball history after six landmark seasons with the Angels, but now much will depend on the health of his pitching elbow.

Ohtani plans to get second opinions on whether surgery is necessary, Minasian said.

“If I was to bet on anybody bouncing back, he would be the guy,” said Minasian, who didn’t know the grade of Ohtani’s ligament tear. “I believe he’ll be back and he’ll be able to do both again at a very high level.”

Ohtani sits atop the home run leaderboard and isbatting .304 with a 1.069 OPS and 91 RBIs. He is also 10-5 with a 3.14 ERA and a major league-best .184 opponent batting average as the Angels’ ace on the mound.

Minasian didn’t think the unprecedented demands of two-way play finally might have got to Ohtani, who hasn’t missed a game since May 2 by his own choice.

“He’s a pro,” Minasian said. “Didn’t faze him. ‘Am I OK to play tonight? I want to play tonight.’ He’s a mentally strong individual. To do what he does, you have to be. How he handled it and the fact that he played, to me, is beyond impressive.”

Minasian isn’t sure whether his two-way superstar will continue to chase the major league homers crown while serving as their designated hitter this year, but those plans were secondary to the importance of Ohtani’s long-term health. The Angels open a nine-game trip against the New York Mets on Friday.

“I think he needs time to wrap his head around it, talk to the people close to him,” Minasian said. “We’re in the process of getting second opinions. Once the information is there, he’ll make the right decision on what he wants to do, and we’ll support him, whatever he decides. … I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s in New York and he’s in the lineup. I know how bad he wants to play.”

Ohtani didn’t speak to reporters after either game. Minasian said he didn’t believe Ohtani had unreported pain in his elbow.

“Our relationship over the last three years is based off communication and trust,” the GM said. “We trust him. He trusts us. We listened to him. He knows his body. He knows where he’s at.”

With 16 losses in their last 21 games and no realistic playoff hopes after losing five of six on their homestand, the Angels actually got a double dose of terrible injury news.

Three-time AL MVP Mike Trout is also going back on the injured list to speed his recovery from surgery on his broken hand. Trout returned Tuesday after missing 38 games, but didn’t play in the doubleheader after waking up sore. Minasian hopes Trout will play again this season, but is uncertain how long he will need to recover from a major injury in his third consecutive season.

“You need your hands to hit,” Minasian said. “It’s a significant injury that he’s coming back from, and the last thing you want is (for) him to start compensating for his hand and doing other things and hurting other body parts.”

Ohtani played 106 games as the Angels’ designated hitter in the 2019 season after having Tommy John surgery. He even hit for the Halos late in the 2018 season before his surgery, but after being shut down on the mound for the season with what the team initially called a ligament sprain.

Ohtani made two mound starts late in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, but returned to the mound spectacularly in 2021 while winning his MVP award.

Ohtani still seems almost certain to win his second MVP trophy after another standout two-way campaign. His two-run homer in Wednesday’s opening game broke his tie with Atlanta’s Matt Olson atop the homer standings.

But Ohtani skipped his previous turn in the rotation last week to rest his arm late in a long summer, and his velocity was down across the board Wednesday while he faced the Reds’ first six batters.

Ohtani had a 2-2 count on Christian Encarnacion-Strand when the Angels’ training staff came out to check on him following a 94 mph fastball. Ohtani headed off the mound with what the Angels initially called arm fatigue.

Angels manager Phil Nevin said Ohtani told him that his pitching arm “just didn’t feel right.”

“He told me he didn’t feel any pain,” Nevin said after the Angels’ 9-4 loss. “It was just more of the same thing he’s been feeling for the last couple of weeks.”

Ohtani has struggled with blisters, cramps and other minor injuries to his pitching hand this summer, but had not reported elbow pain, Minasian said. The slugger continued to play every day at DH, missing only two games all season.

Ohtani left the mound early with pain from blisters or a cracked fingernail in three straight starts earlier this summer, although he pitched at least five innings each time. He then left the mound after four scoreless innings against Seattle on Aug. 3 because of cramping in his hand and fingers.