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OC Register: Shohei Ohtani’s elbow injury will force Angels to scramble at two positions

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MINNEAPOLIS — For some, losing three of your teammates to elbow injuries in one season might make each dose of bad news easier to swallow than the last.

Not Martin Maldonado. The veteran catcher didn’t sugarcoat his reaction to the news that Shohei Ohtani would miss at least the next three weeks after being diagnosed with a Grade 2 sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.

“It’s sad, you know,” he said. “It was like that with JC (Ramirez), Keynan (Middleton), all those guys. Those guys are part of our team. Being a catcher, I think I’m more close to them than anybody else. When you hear the news for any pitcher … it’s devastating.”

Ohtani’s diagnosis is not a death sentence. It isn’t even a guaranteed date with Tommy John surgery. Manager Mike Scioscia’s response was more optimistic than Maldonado’s, noting that alternative treatments for Grade 2 sprains could allow Ohtani to beat the typical Tommy John timetable of 12 to 18 months.

“Hopefully,” Scioscia said, “it’s something that can be managed.”

Of course, hope cannot fill in as a pitcher or a designated hitter. The Angels must replace Ohtani at both positions after living off his Ruthian excellence for two months.

With no less than six days’ rest between his first nine starts, Ohtani is 4-1 with a 3.10 earned-run average. As a DH, he is batting .289 with a .372 on-base percentage and .535 slugging percentage. He has six home runs and 20 RBIs in 34 games.

The Angels will move back to a traditional five-man starting rotation for “some stretches,” Scioscia said. Rookie right-hander Jaime Barría, who is 5-1 with a 2.48 ERA, will be back from Triple-A soon.

The Angels’ rotation has thrived within a flexible six-man format. Keeping it intact could be a challenge without Ohtani. Beyond Barría, the Angels’ 40-man roster is not rife with internal options.

Jesus Castillo, a 22-year-old right-hander, is 4-4 with a 5.06 ERA at Double-A Mobile. Miguel Almonte is on the disabled list at Triple-A Salt Lake and has not pitched this season. Right-hander Parker Bridwell has an 8.68 ERA in six starts at Triple-A.

Lefty John Lamb, who has a 3.72 ERA in 12 starts at Triple-A Salt Lake, is the only other pitcher in the organization with a major league start to his credit.

“We’re going to look, just like we did with Shohei in there, week-to-week and see how things are going,” Scioscia said. “We’ll continue to do that.”

Albert Pujols was the Angels’ designated hitter on Friday against the Minnesota Twins. Jose Fernandez was added to the roster and made his major league debut at first base against right-hander Lance Lynn. Luis Valbuena and Jefry Marte have also seen time at first base this season.

“We’ve got a number of guys who can play first base,” Scioscia said. “The DH will be rotated around and we’ll hopefully get our lineup doing what we hope to on the offensive side.”

An off-season physical reportedly revealed Ohtani had a Grade 1 strain in his right UCL long before he made his Angels debut. Yet both Scioscia and Maldonado never saw evidence of an elbow injury – either in Ohtani’s performance or his words – before he mentioned feeling stiff after Wednesday’s game against the Kansas City Royals.

To Maldonado, the news was just as surprising as it was devastating.

“We’re going to be here to support him,” Maldonado said of Ohtani. “We are a family. We are a team. We’re hoping for the best. It’s tough for a pitcher, for a position player for anybody. We want him to be the best, be healthy for us.”


Ohtani and infielder Kaleb Cowart were both placed on the 10-day disabled list Friday.

Scioscia said Cowart sprained his ankle stepping off the team bus Thursday in Minnesota. The manager called it a “freak injury” – not unlike shortstop Andrelton Simmons spraining his ankle Tuesday when he tripped down the dugout steps.

“You know you’re under a rain cloud when guys are getting hurt and it’s not baseball activities,” Scioscia said.

Losing Cowart, a switch-hitter, and Ohtani, a left-handed hitter, left the Angels’ lineup even more right-handed than usual. Left-handed hitting outfielder Kole Calhoun is already on the disabled list with a strained oblique.

A pair of left-handed hitters got the call from Salt Lake: Fernandez and infielder Nolan Fontana.

Calhoun has resumed baseball activities in Arizona, Scioscia said, but he and Simmons have no timetable for returning to the Angels.


For Fernandez, 30, the call-up culminated a long journey that began in Cuba and included 146 minor league games with the Dodgers and Angels before his debut Friday.

How does he feel?

“Very motivated,” Fernandez said in Spanish.

“This is my first day in the major leagues,” he continued. “It is an honor being here. What I will try to do in my work, I will do it well and try to help the team whenever necessary.”

Fernandez said he spoke to his family in Cuba immediately after getting the news yesterday. After defecting from the island nation in December 2015, he signed a $200,000 contract with the Dodgers but he did not advance beyond the Triple-A level. He was released in Nov. 2017 and signed with the Angels.

This season, Fernandez hit .345 with 10 home runs and 39 RBIs in 53 games for Salt Lake.

The Angels began the day with 39 players on their 40-man roster, so they did not have to make a corresponding move to add Fernandez. His contract allows him to be optioned back to the minor leagues.

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